MAHACHAI, THAILAND - AUGUST 18: A Burmese migrant family sorts shrimp at an open-air distribution center in Mahachai, the capital of Samut Sakhon province on August 18, 2012. Labor abuse is most common in unregistered peeling sheds that line area backroads. (Jason Motlagh/FTWP)
August 19

THIS YEAR’S parade of horrors in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report included shocking accounts of child soldiers, organ trafficking, forced labor and more. The document is a sad testament to the depths of cruelty by humans to other humans. Mandated by Congress, this report is a chance not only to speak truth to power but also to seek change.

That’s why the section on Thailand is worth noting. The report found that Thailand does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The nation has been downgraded to the lowest possible level, Tier 3, which could lead to sanctions and cutoff of aid other than humanitarian aid.

Most of the trafficking in Thailand involves sex workers. But two important pieces of journalism in the past year have cast light on brutal and abhorrent practices of human trafficking in the largely unregulated fishing industry. Reuters won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for a series of articles calling attention to the role of the Thai navy in abetting the smuggling of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and economic deprivation in Burma. Many of the Rohingya either died at sea or were sold to human traffickers and into slavery. The Guardian recently published an investigation that showed that slaves are forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence in the production of seafood sold by major retailers in the United States and Europe. It reported that large numbers of men, bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand, are integral to shrimp production.

The U.S. government report points out that “this form of forced labor continues to be prevalent, and that increasing international scrutiny has led traffickers to use new methods, making their crimes more difficult to detect.” Moreover, “Men from Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia are forced to work on Thai-flagged fishing boats in Thai and international waters and were rescued from countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Timor-Leste.” The report found that the number of Cambodian victims rescued from Thai fishing vessels in countries around the world more than doubled in 2013. According to the report, the Thai government “did not hold ship owners, captains, or complicit government officials criminally accountable for labor trafficking in the commercial fishing industry.”

Thailand has insisted that it is working hard to curb human trafficking. In the past two years, Thailand received a U.S. waiver based on a written plan for improvement. But the report declares that Thailand is not making enough progress toward the minimum standards. Other countries with bottom rankings include Russia, Iran, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.

However difficult it may be for Thailand to be held up in this light, the right course is to take action to improve its standing.