The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It increased funding for migrant labor management and anti-trafficking efforts to 3.6 billion baht ($110.4 million) in fiscal year 2018 from 3.2 billion baht ($98.2 million) in fiscal year 2017. In September 2017, the cabinet approved the Second National Policy Strategies and Measures to Prevent and Suppress Trafficking in Persons, 2017-2021. It conducted campaigns through newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards, and handouts to raise public awareness throughout the country. Given the low literacy rate and diversity of languages among at-risk persons, however, this information remained inaccessible to many vulnerable non-Thai speakers. The government and civil society groups operated a service center for fishermen to provide information on their rights, skills training, health screenings, and other resources.
The government continued efforts to reduce costs for Thais in overseas guest worker programs, but excessive fees incurred by some Thai workers to obtain employment abroad made them vulnerable to debt bondage or exploitative conditions. Through government-to-government formal migration channels, the government facilitated 20,068 Thais to obtain employment abroad in 2017. Provincial employment offices provided training to more than 3,500 of these workers prior to their departure and MOL screened travel documents for departing workers at 25 checkpoints throughout the country; of 64,602 workers departing Thailand in 2017, 729 were prevented from traveling. In 2017, the government inspected 302 labor recruitment agencies that facilitated overseas and domestic employment of Thai workers and found unlawful practices in nine, resulting in license suspensions of eight agencies and the revocation of one agency’s license. It initiated prosecutions against 287 illegal brokers (108 in 2016) under the Employment and Job-Seeker Protection Act. The government continued to grant citizenship to stateless persons in 2017 and issued a new regulation to provide legal residency to orphaned and non-Thai children born in Thailand. In an effort to prevent trafficking of children, child advocacy centers provided social service interventions, including acute care needs, to children vulnerable to exploitation, and childcare was offered at a service center for fishermen. MSDHS and MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 20 foreign languages; the MSDHS hotline received 172 calls related to possible trafficking cases in 2017 (269 in 2016), leading to the identification of 109 child and 63 adult victims and prosecution of 73 cases. MSDHS increased the number of available hotline interpreters to 68 in 2017.
Critical gaps in Thailand’s labor laws preventing migrant workers from forming labor unions may have contributed to exploitation. In addition, NGOs and international organizations widely reported the government did not adequately enforce the application of minimum wages in sectors with a minimum wage and lacked legislation to require minimum wages in other sectors, especially in those sectors with high employment of migrant workers. Some also reported gaps in Thai policies related to migrant workers that exacerbated exploitation, such as no requirement that employment contracts be written in both Thai and workers’ languages, lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels, and difficulty for workers to change employers. In June 2017, the government issued a royal ordinance concerning management of foreign worker employment, which required additional registration requirements for migrant workers and their employers, and strengthened penalties for employers of undocumented workers. However, the sudden announcement of the ordinance resulted in mass departures of thousands of undocumented workers who subsequently may have become vulnerable to exploitation. Following criticisms from stakeholders, the government delayed implementation of the decree until June 2018 to seek stakeholder input on amendments of the decree, as well as to allow migrant workers more time to obtain the necessary documents for legal employment under the decree. The government facilitated the establishment of 14 service centers in Thailand, in coordination with the governments of Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, to conduct nationality verification for undocumented migrant workers. The cabinet subsequently approved an amended decree in March 2018, adding protections for workers such as prohibiting the confiscation of identity documents, banning sub-contracted employees, and easing the ability for workers to change employers, which remained widespread concerns during the reporting period. In October 2017, DLPW required employers in the fishing sector to pay workers monthly through bank transfers.
A government decree required migrant worker recruitment agencies to apply for a license and pay a deposit fee applied toward a foreign worker employment fund; unregistered agencies were liable to three years imprisonment and fines up to 60,000 baht ($1,840). Employers were also mandated to cover costs (excluding personal expenses such as passports, medical checks, and work permits) associated with bringing migrant workers to Thailand and back to their home countries when employment ends, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs. In 2017, 101 migrant worker recruitment agencies were licensed and the government inspected 97 agencies; the government prosecuted one agency in violation of the decree and imposed a fine of 20,000 baht ($610). While the number of migrant workers entering Thailand through formal government-to-government migration systems increased, greater usage of this mechanism continued to be impeded by lack of information, lengthy processing times, difficulties in changing employers, and high costs tied to corruption on both sides of the border. The government operated three post-arrival centers to assist migrant workers entering Thailand through these formal channels, as well as 10 migrant workers assistance centers; these centers assisted 345,204 workers in 2017 (105,647 in August 2016 to February 2017) by providing resources in multiple languages, including for trafficking awareness, and assisting the migrant workers to register with the government.
The Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Justice inspected 11,268 “high-risk” adult entertainment venues and ordered 268 to cease business activities for five years; these inspections led to the prosecution of eight trafficking cases. DPLW conducted 1,693 labor inspections at high-risk workplaces, including sugarcane farms, garment factories, shrimp and fish processing facilities, pig farms, and poultry farms in 2017, finding 191 violations resulting in 12 prosecutions. In February 2017 the government called all Thai fishing vessels operating outside Thai waters back to port where they were put under close monitoring; the government had not authorized these vessels to continue fishing by the end of the reporting period. CCCIF, the Department of Fisheries, DLPW, and other relevant agencies developed a manual on SOPs for labor inspections to be conducted after the government reauthorizes Thai vessels to operate outside Thai waters. In addition, the government required fishing vessels operating within Thai waters to return to ports every 30 days for inspections.
The government continued to screen for trafficking indicators among fishermen returning to Thailand and on fishing vessels in Thai waters, as well as among workers in seafood processing facilities. The CCCIF operated 32 PIPO centers plus 19 additional forward inspection points, which performed inspections at port, at sea, and on land to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally and workers had contracts, work permits, and identity documents. The government increased the number of PIPO inspection teams from 64 to 85. MOL conducted inspections onboard 644 vessels in 2017 and found 34 violations of the law (15 in 2016); three cases were prosecuted as a result. In addition, the Royal Thai Navy conducted 3,927 on board inspections of fishing vessels in 2017 and suspended 110 vessels from operating for legal violations. However, the government did not report whether any of these inspections resulted in the identification of trafficking victims, and NGO observers asserted both at-port and at-sea inspections conducted by multidisciplinary teams of the CCCIF were conducted too quickly, in front of ship captains or in open settings, with inconsistent methods in different ports, or by interpretors without the presence of labor inspectors; and in some cases, inspections consisted only of a review of documents or inspectors did not board vessels or speak to crewmembers. Civil society and government officials expressed concerns that due to varying levels of enforcement at PIPO centers, some boat captains chose ports where inspections and enforcement were weaker. Some NGOs reported workers faced retaliation if they reported abuse to inspection teams, and asserted potential victims did not to report abuses to avoid long shelter stays which could result in financial or personal hardships. In 2017 the multidisciplinary teams of the CCCIF inspected 358 on-land seafood processing workplaces and found 142 cases of law and labor violations. The government issued administrative orders to suspend business operations for nine workplaces for 10 to 30 days. The government did not report how many of these violations had direct ties to trafficking.
The government took steps to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts, including by investigating and prosecuting offenders who purchased children for commercial sex acts. To discourage child sex tourism, the government reported it denied entry to 74 known foreign sex offenders. The government developed and launched a video shown on flights entering Thailand discouraging sex tourism. The Ministry of Tourism distributed more than 315,000 brochures discouraging sex tourism to businesses and tourism professionals and organized trainings for 800 local government officials, tourism sector workers, students, youth, and civil society organizations on prevention of child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry.