At regional forum Thailand takes leadership on anti-trafficking

2_traffic1Thailand continued to take a new and strong leadership role in the region in the fight against human trafficking by organizing and hosting a second international conference on the issue of irregular migration last week while also offering to work with civil society groups and corporations to solve trafficking and labor abuse problems they raised in recently released reports.

The meeting in Bangkok took place as civil society groups warned that new waves of boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar were preparing to venture on to the Indian Ocean in attempts to reach Malaysia and Indonesia, often passing through Thai waters and territory in the process. Thai officials said they would push for the countries and international agencies attending the Bangkok forum to raise and address the root causes of the migration and trafficking crises, and develop more concrete actions in response. Thailand organized the first meeting on the issue in May, but some participants declined to discuss root causes at that time.

“The time for promises has passed. Now is the time for action. Therefore, it’s my hope that today’s discussion will result in concrete and goal-oriented actions that countries can start implementing, not in some distant future, but today and now,” Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai said during opening remarks to the forum.

Senior officials from five affected countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand – and representatives of related partners including the United States, Australia, Japan, Switzerland and the European Union attended. Also participating were representatives from international organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the International Organization on Migration, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the U.N. Development Program.

The meeting followed the recent release of a report by Swiss food corporation Nestlé and authored by a civil society group that alleged widespread trafficking and abuse in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industries. Thailand’s government and its Embassy in Washington D.C., pointed out that the report was actually compiled well before the government launched a wide-ranging campaign against trafficking and labor abuses in those sectors. The campaign has included hundreds of arrests, passages of new laws and regulations, stronger oversight of the industries, stricter law enforcement, and better protections and services for victims.

Furthermore, the Embassy offered to join forces with concerned corporations and trafficking researchers to eliminate gaps and problems and eradicate trafficking. “The Thai Government is ready to work with Nestlé and other partners in the private sector and civil society to combat human trafficking and unlawful labor practices in the seafood industry,’’ the Embassy said in a statement.

Thailand’s continuing crackdown on traffickers and abusers, and its willingness to work with anti-trafficking groups, were evident last week with the arrest of another eight people, including a vessel owner and four ship captains, in Southern Thailand for trafficking and labor violations. Police made the arrests after receiving information from an international nongovernmental organization working on trafficking issues.

Thailand also received strong praise last week from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees for its significant progress on providing citizenship to stateless people. Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of stateless people and they are among the groups most vulnerable to human trafficking, labor abuse and other types of abuses.

The U.N. said there was real potential for ending the problem of statelessness in Thailand in view of the progress the country has been making on the issue.

Stateless people include migrants and ethnic minorities who traditionally roam across borders with various seasons and live in remote areas. Their traditional lifestyles and roaming patterns put them outside systems that document where and when they were born, leaving them officially stateless.

For more information and updates about Thailand’s policies and actions against trafficking in persons and related issues, visit