Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, on Tuesday issued the blunt message that "no one deserves to be a modern day slave".
Mark Largon, a senior adviser to Rice on the trafficking issue, said it was
"especially disappointing that so many wealthy countries in the Near East [Middle East] ... are on Tier 3".
The 236-page global survey found the number of prosecutions against human traffickers was low.
Risk of sanctions
Getting on the list means a country is vulnerable to US sanctions for failing to stop the annual flow of up to 800,000 mostly women and children worldwide to work in the sex trade and other forms of forced or bonded labour.
|The report said 800,000 people are trafficked |
annually to work in forced labour [AP]
Many of the trafficking victims seek to escape poverty in Eastern Europe, South and South-East Asia, and are sold into the sex trade, manual labour or abused as domestic workers.
Bahrain was cited for making "no discernible progress" and for not seriously investigating allegations and enforcing laws aimed at protecting foreign workers mostly from South and South-East Asia.
The report acknowledged oil-rich Kuwait's "modest progress" but said its efforts to improve its protection of victims "had little effect".
Oman was charged with not applying and enforcing existing anti-trafficking laws and for failing to educate foreign workers about their rights.
Qatar was accused of not outlawing all forms of trafficking and producing only two convictions despite numerous allegations of maid abuse.
Another newcomer, Malaysia, was cited for failing to protect and identify victims of trafficking, many of them Indonesian domestic helpers.
Critics said the report was politically motivated and argued that the US had no business criticising other countries when its defence department had hired trafficked workers in Iraq.
They said friendly countries with major trafficking problems such as India escaped censure while US "enemies" such as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela stayed on the list.
But Largon denied any political motivation and noted Zimbabwe, which has a poor relationship with the US, escaped the Tier 3 ranking.
The report elevated Zimbabwe, along with Belize and Laos to Tier 2 for making tangible efforts to comply with the minimum standards.
The report also moved Georgia, Hungary and Slovenia to Tier 1 for an improved performance in meeting minimum standards.