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BRUNEI: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included training police, labor, and immigration officers on trafficking and victim identification and continuing awareness-raising campaigns for employers of foreign workers. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers for the second consecutive year. While the government identified a similar number of potential trafficking victims during the reporting period compared with the previous year, the number was significantly lower than the number of migrant workers who exhibit multiple indicators of trafficking. The government continued to detain, deport, and charge potential victims for crimes without employing a victim-centered approach to discern if the traffickers compelled the victims to engage in the unlawful acts. The government did not provide shelter or services for adult male trafficking victims. Therefore Brunei was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.


Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labor traffickers, including complicit government officials, with strong penalties. • Widely disseminate standard operating procedures for victim identification, and train all front-line police, immigration, and labor officials on the procedures. • Cease the arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for unlawful acts their trafficker compelled them to commit. • Increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by providing shelter to adult male victims, allowing adult victims in government shelters to move freely, allowing at-will communication with people outside shelter facilities, and issuing work permits to all victims. • Formalize the ad hoc interagency human trafficking committee. • Ensure migrant worker contracts and information on their rights and obligations under Brunei law are available in the migrant worker’s primary language and that the migrant worker can retain a copy. • Issue guidelines on the prohibition of recruitment agencies charging or receiving worker-funded fees and enforce the prohibition. • Allocate resources for the completion of the pending dedicated trafficking victims’ shelter. • Train judges on accurate and effective implementation of trafficking laws. • Allocate government resources to the victims’ fund established under the 2004 law and allow those funds to be paid directly to victims as restitution. • Strengthen efforts to enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents and partial or full withholding of wages. • Offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country. • Expand comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and buyers of commercial sex. • Approve and implement the national action plan and the draft trafficking law. • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons.


The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons Order criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 1 million Brunei dollars ($734,750), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The penal code criminalized travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the reporting period, the sultan did not approve previously drafted legislation from 2017 that would create separate laws criminalizing trafficking and migrant smuggling and allow the government to comply with and enable ratification of the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons and the UN Palermo Protocol.

Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF), labor, and immigration officers referred cases of suspected trafficking to the human trafficking unit (HTU) for further investigation. The HTU also reviewed case reports from other RBPF units to look for trafficking indicators, particularly in cases involving prostitution, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers. The HTU reported it screened 46 cases in 2018 for trafficking indicators compared with 28 cases in 2017. All 46 cases were of domestic workers who fled their employment. Separately, the Labor Department screened 16 cases of domestic workers who reported unpaid wages and other issues for trafficking indicators through October 2018. Authorities did not refer any of these cases to the attorney general’s chambers (AGC) for prosecution, compared with two cases referred in 2017. In both 2017 and 2018, the AGC did not initiate any new trafficking prosecutions. Courts did not convict any traffickers in 2017 or 2018; the government’s most recent trafficking convictions were of three traffickers in 2016. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. The HTU continued to train RBPF, immigration, labor, and anti-vice officers on trafficking and victim identification.


The government decreased efforts to protect victims.  The HTU continued to report it employed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to identify potential trafficking victims when apprehending persons in prostitution and when accompanying immigration and labor officials on operations where trafficking was suspected.  Police, immigration, and labor officers, who would be most likely to encounter potential trafficking victims, reported they also used these SOPs.  In some cases, authorities employed identification measures only after detaining victims during law enforcement operations, such as raids in which police arrested foreign women for prostitution crimes.  Contrary to a victim-centered approach that requires governments to stabilize people with indicators of trafficking in order to provide time to determine if the person is a victim, in one case in 2018, courts convicted a Vietnamese woman for prostitution only one day after police detained her and her alleged pimp in a raid.  Additionally, officials may have detained and deported unidentified trafficking victims for labor or immigration violations.  Foreign government officials reported Bruneian authorities deported several of their citizens after their Bruneian employers withheld wages or medical care and then reported to immigration officials that the migrant workers had run away.  According to observers, the practice of detention and deportation perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, exacerbating significant identification and service provision gaps.  On March 31, 2019, the government identified two potential sex trafficking victims, compared with three potential victims identified in 2017.

The government maintained a secure, general-purpose shelter and provided medical care, counseling, psychological assessment, clothing, meals, and access to vocational training programs and recreational activities to all female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims under the age of 18.  The government required victims to apply to leave the shelter and permitted movement only when the victim was accompanied by a chaperone.  Shelter officials permitted victims to make calls home in the presence of an official from their embassy who could translate the conversation for authorities.  The government did not provide shelter or services to adult male victims.  During the reporting period, three women, identified as potential trafficking victims in the previous reporting period, received shelter and assistance services until October 2018 when the government decided not to prosecute their case and repatriated the women—a year after authorities initially placed them in the shelter.  For the third consecutive year, the government reported budget constraints delayed its ongoing renovation of a dedicated trafficking shelter.

The 2004 law established a fund to compensate victims and cover repatriation costs.  However, the government’s decision to not allocate money to the fund and convicted traffickers’ ability to elect additional prison time in lieu of paying fines resulted in the fund’s continued lack of resources.  The departments of labor and immigration could grant victims temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; the government did not report any victims receiving work passes during the reporting period.  The government did not have legal alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.


The government maintained limited efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s anti-trafficking interagency committee regularly met to review government efforts although it continued to operate without permanent authority within the government. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not complete its draft national action plan to combat trafficking.  The government continued its public awareness campaign with printed materials in English and Malay and supported a local NGO’s anti-trafficking conference with official participation.

Brunei’s 2004 Employment Agencies Order (EAO) mandated licensing and regulation of recruitment agents. The EAO prohibited agencies from charging or receiving any form of fees, remuneration, profit, or compensation; however, the labor department had not yet issued guidelines on this prohibition and therefore authorities had not implemented oversight of this provision. The government did not report taking action against any recruitment agencies for unlawful actions during the reporting period. Observers reported a number of migrant workers obtained authentic but improperly issued work permits in early 2018 and alleged a corrupt official had issued these permits. The observers noted later that cases of improperly issued work permits ceased after April 2018 when the government introduced a new work permit stamp. The labor department required foreign workers to sign their contracts in the presence of a labor officer to prevent forgery and for the labor official to be able to provide information to the worker on their rights and obligations; however, many workers’ lack of literacy or fluency in local languages hindered disseminating information to and capturing information from workers. Brunei did not have a minimum wage; salary payments were negotiated in individual contracts which labor officials, without legal guidance, could not determine the fairness of. The 2009 Employment Order did not require employers to provide a written record of terms to employees not covered under the order, namely domestic workers and fishing crews.

Although Bruneian law prohibited employers from withholding wages more than seven days or retaining employees’ passports, foreign embassies reported their citizens commonly experienced both practices. The labor department provided workers with business cards containing the department’s hotline for reporting labor violations and continued its awareness roadshow to educate the public on labor laws, including on passport retention. However, when labor officials inspected worksites they only required migrant workers to show a copy of their passport and visa and the government did not report taking administrative or legal action against employers for passport retention during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts.  Brunei is not party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Brunei. There are approximately 100,000 foreign migrant workers in Brunei from regional countries, including approximately 10,000 workers, most of whom are from mainland China, constructing a Chinese-funded petrochemical plant on an island in Brunei Bay with limited freedom of movement. Men and women migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic and construction work. Upon arrival, traffickers exploit some migrant workers through involuntary servitude, debt-based coercion, contract switching, non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, physical abuse, or confinement. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold the wages of their employees for more than seven days, some employers withhold wages to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel the continued service of workers. Retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remains a widespread practice, although the law prohibits it. Traffickers may force some female migrants who arrive in Brunei on a tourist visas into prostitution. Some traffickers who exploit migrants in Malaysia or Indonesia for sex or labor trafficking use Brunei to transit victims.

U.S. Department of State

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