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Thailand vows to tackle human trafficking
Pledge comes after US report decries appalling treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are victims of debt bondage.
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2012 19:53

Thailand's government has pledged to crack down on human trafficking after the US state department criticised the Southeast Asian country in its latest report on worldwide human trafficking for doing little to address the problem.

Many migrant workers, who mostly come from neighbouring Myanmar, end up in Thai factories where they are forced to work under appalling conditions and suffer from serious abuse. Many of them are victims of human trafficking, rights groups say.

Some of them are victims of debt bondage, meaning they are bought and sold and forced to work to pay police fees and debts to the companies that traffick them.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay visited Kanchanaburi, in western Thailand, where he spoke to a worker who fled a fruit-processing plant.

There are allegations of human trafficking at this factory of Vita, which had a high-profile client - the US retailer Walmart.

Thailand barely managed to cling to its spot in the Tier 2 Watch List of the state department's 2012 report. Had it dropped down further to the bottom Tier 3, the country risked facing a number of US sanctions.

But in the three-tier system, the Tier 2 Watch List level is still a poor rating, and Thailand has received this grade now for the third consecutive year.

US recommendations

The Tier 2 Watch List ranking is reserved for countries which do not fully comply with the minimum standards for efforts to eliminate human trafficking, but which have demonstrated evidence of stepping up their efforts from the last year.

The US report noted that Thailand escaped downgrading to Tier 3 only because of a written plan drawn up by the government which, if implemented, would help the country meet these minimum standards.

The state department's recommendations to Thailand include suggestions to tackle forced labour, debt bondage, the confiscation of workers' documents and extortion by the police.

It also recommended that a greater number of trafficking offenders must be prosecuted and convicted, and the same holds for corrupt officials.

According to Thailand's 2008 anti-trafficking law, violators face a jail term of four to 10 years, but they are rarely arrested and prosecuted.

The Thai government has promised a plan to combat trafficking more effectively, but is seen by many as lacking the political will to root out widespread corruption in the police force and other agencies.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies.
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