THAILAND: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Thailand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included taking steps to improve coordination with civil society in trafficking investigations and victim protection, organizing trainings and workshops for prosecutors and judges on trauma-informed procedures, and initiating investigations of nine officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. The government created working groups to consider adopting a reflection period for victims and a national referral mechanism and institutionalized the police division dedicated to combatting the online sexual exploitation of children. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government initiated significantly fewer trafficking investigations, prosecuted fewer suspects, and convicted fewer traffickers than in 2019. Despite widespread reports that forced labor was prevalent among migrant workers in many industries in Thailand, the government identified a low number of labor trafficking victims compared to the scope of the problem, officials often lacked an understanding of labor trafficking, and the government lacked standard procedures for labor inspectors to refer potential cases to law enforcement. Thai authorities have never reported identifying a victim of labor trafficking as a result of fishing vessel inspections conducted at ports. The government’s provision of services to victims remained inadequate, and some victims residing in government shelters lacked freedom of movement. Corruption and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts, and the government convicted five complicit officials in 2020. Therefore Thailand was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Improve the capacity of law enforcement to proactively prosecute and convict labor traffickers and identify labor trafficking victims, including by finalizing guidelines for Section 6/1 of the anti-trafficking law. • Ensure multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) are composed of officials who are trained and have sufficient experience working trafficking cases to improve the effectiveness of victim identifications. • Proactively investigate and prosecute officials allegedly complicit in facilitating trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty with adequate sentences. • Increase the ability of victims, especially adults, to move freely in and out of shelters and access communication devices and reassess shelter placements periodically to ensure victims are not required to remain in shelters longer than necessary. • Ensure experienced officers respond to trafficking cases, including by increasing the capacity of the police anti-trafficking unit to assist local districts that do not have experience with investigating trafficking. • Extend the period in which officials are required to identify a potential victim formally, to allow victims time to obtain government services, recover from their exploitation, and recount their experiences to authorities. • Ensure government and NGO-operated shelters provide victims with adequate trauma-informed and individualized care, such as legal assistance and psychological care. • Increase government coordination to ensure labor violations and migrant workers’ complaints that include indicators of forced labor are investigated for trafficking crimes, including by establishing standard procedures for labor officials to refer potential cases of labor trafficking to MDTs and law enforcement. • Consider legal alternatives to foreign victims’ placement in shelters, such as enabling victims to exit the shelter system when they are ready to pursue outside employment opportunities. • Do not make victims’ formal identification and access to services dependent on their willingness to participate in investigations against their traffickers. • Take steps to ensure victims are adequately prepared for court proceedings, including by increasing access to public prosecutors or partnerships with NGOs to prepare victims. • Continue to support the development of victim-centric and trauma-informed approaches among judges overseeing trafficking cases. • Enforce regular payment of wages, requirements that employers pay recruitment fees of migrant workers, and the rights of employees to retain possession of their own identity and financial documents. • Increase efforts to ensure employers provide workers copies of contracts in a language they understand. • Foster an environment conducive to victims and advocates reporting human trafficking crimes without fear of facing spurious retributive charges pursued by employers, including by utilizing recent legal amendments to dismiss cases filed with dishonest intent or to intimidate defendants.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Section 6 of the 2008 anti-trafficking law, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 400,000 to 1.2 million baht ($13,370 to $40,110) for offenses involving an adult victim, and six to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 600,000 to 2 million baht ($20,050 to $66,840) for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. An amendment to the 2008 anti-trafficking law in 2019 included a separate provision under Section 6/1, specifically addressing “forced labor or services”, which prescribed penalties of six months’ to four years’ imprisonment, a fine of 50,000 to 400,000 baht ($1,670 to $13,370) per victim, or both. This provision prescribed significantly lower penalties for labor trafficking crimes than those already available under the existing human trafficking provision of the law. In addition, observers reported Section 6/1 created confusion among government officials investigating labor trafficking, especially in the absence of implementing guidelines.

During pandemic-related lockdowns, courts did not operate fully and postponed many hearings by at least two months. Courts permitted some witness testimony through online video platforms; however, technical difficulties also contributed to delays in trials. Pandemic-related border closures and international travel restrictions, and the subsequent reduction in both migration and tourism throughout the reporting period likely contributed to a reduction in new incidents of some forms of trafficking but also reduced the government’s ability to detect the crime. In 2020, the government reported investigating 132 potential trafficking cases (288 in 2019), initiating prosecutions of 302 suspected traffickers (386 in 2019), and convicting 233 traffickers (304 in 2019). Courts sentenced approximately 76 percent of convicted traffickers to two or more years of imprisonment. During the previous reporting period, law enforcement frequently conflated trafficking and smuggling crimes, which contributed to an increased rate of prosecutors declining to pursue trafficking charges in cases referred to them. However this occurred less frequently in 2020; the trafficking litigation unit of the office of the attorney general (OAG) did not find sufficient evidence of trafficking in approximately 7 percent of cases with arrested suspects referred to them by law enforcement in 2020, which was a decrease compared to 18 percent in 2019. The number of sex trafficking investigations decreased from 185 in 2019 to 118 in 2020. However, NGOs reported that increasingly frequent and severe sentences imposed on sex traffickers in recent years has deterred the crime, including among owners of bars, restaurants, massage parlors, and other establishments. The government and NGOs reported an increase in online sexual exploitation, especially of children, during the reporting period. The Thai Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (TICAC) received more than 260,000 tips from a U.S. based NGO on potential cases of child sexual exploitation, a significant increase compared to approximately 117,000 tips received in 2019. TICAC investigated 94 cases of internet crimes against children in 2020 (77 in 2019), including 22 cases of internet-facilitated child sex trafficking (26 in 2019). In September 2020, TICAC was made a permanent subdivision within the Royal Thai Police (RTP), with 17 dedicated officers.

The government reported investigating 14 potential cases of labor trafficking—including two cases involving the fishing sector—a significant decrease compared to 77 in 2019. NGOs observed that the lack of adequate investigations and prosecutions for labor trafficking stemmed in large part from a lack of understanding of forced labor among officials. In addition, officials often did not understand how to apply Section 6 and Section 6/1 in labor trafficking cases. Following the enactment of Section 6/1 in 2019, the Ministry of Labor was responsible for drafting implementing guidelines but has not done so, which contributed to the lack of understanding of how to interpret and implement the law. Observers reported law enforcement often did not fully investigate cases and subsequently were unable to prove document confiscation or debt were used as a means of compelling individuals to work. Labor officials did not consistently refer potential cases of forced labor to law enforcement, and there was not a standard procedure for labor officials to do so. Some officials were reluctant to pursue these cases due to their complexity. Police and labor inspectors did not consistently fully investigate migrant workers’ reports of exploitation for trafficking indicators and often identified trafficking cases as labor law violations without pursuing criminal prosecutions against traffickers. In addition, authorities sometimes pressured or intimidated workers to drop cases. Authorities often placed the burden on workers to prove their own exploitation and encouraged them to informally mediate with their employers, despite indicators of trafficking or clear violations such as confiscation of identity document and withholding of wages. Labor officials and law enforcement sometimes investigated the same cases separately for labor violations and criminal violations, rather than coordinating and investigating together, which sometimes jeopardized the success of criminal prosecutions. The frequent rotation of police officers also meant officers with experience working trafficking cases were rotated out of their positions and often replaced with inexperienced officers.

Contacts reported that law enforcement used the results of victim identification interviews as the final determination of whether a trafficking case existed. This was problematic because these interviews often occurred before potential victims had adequate time to recover from their exploitation and were dependent on what victims were able to remember or willing to disclose. Prosecutors and police did not consistently coordinate in the investigation stage of a prosecution, which sometimes contributed to trafficking cases failing at trial. In March 2021, the OAG created a center within its trafficking litigation unit to promote coordination among attorneys, victims, and other agencies. In addition, in early 2021 the unit conducted a study to assess trafficking prosecutions, which will be used to develop a strategy to improve the efficacy of prosecutions. Some victims were reluctant to participate in prosecutions due to fears of detention and extended shelter stays, a lack of adequate services, and fears of experiencing retaliation from traffickers. In an attempt to increase victims’ willingness to participate as witnesses, Thai courts admitted advance and video testimony as evidence in trials; courts conducted 11 advanced hearings for 67 witnesses in 2020. Criminal courts provided a separate room for child victims to provide testimony through a video link during proceedings. Thai authorities also worked with authorities in neighboring countries to enable testimony from witnesses outside of Thailand, although some local NGOs previously reported an unwillingness among local police and prosecutors to do so. Prosecutors worked with NGOs to prepare victims to testify, and courts allowed NGO lawyers to serve as co-plaintiffs in some cases to legally support victims. However, the OAG did not have sufficient capacity to enable prosecutors to meet with and prepare all victims before trials, and NGOs recommended victims be increasingly partnered with NGO or private attorneys to provide this support. Government shelters enabled victims to participate in mock courts to prepare them for participating in proceedings against their traffickers; however, this often only consisted of a basic explanation of the court process and courtroom layout. The government provided approximately 4.8 million baht ($160,430) for witness protection services for 51 witnesses in trafficking cases in 2020, compared to 2.4 million baht ($80,210) for 93 witnesses in 2019.

The government operated specialized anti-trafficking divisions within the Bangkok Criminal Court, the OAG, Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and the RTP. The RTP’s Thailand Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force (TATIP) specialized in investigating complex cases and comprised law enforcement, social workers, and NGOs. Some observers reported RTP did not effectively conduct trafficking investigations and victim identifications, especially within local police districts that lacked experience working trafficking cases. RTP’s anti-trafficking in persons divisions (ATPD) reportedly did not have a sufficient number of officers to respond to the majority of trafficking cases throughout the country, including to inexperienced local police. While interagency coordination was effective in major cities, in some provinces observers reported weak communication among agencies and civil society. In collaboration with an NGO, the OAG organized a workshop with NGOs to improve collaboration in trafficking cases, which resulted in the establishment of points of contact within the OAG for with which NGOs were to coordinate. In addition, DSI held multiple meetings with civil society organizations to exchange information and improve cooperation in investigations and victim protection. In 2020 courts issued forfeiture orders in 20 trafficking cases litigated by the anti-money laundering office (AMLO) for assets valued at approximately 10.6 million baht ($354,280). Thai authorities continued to hold bilateral meetings with neighboring countries to facilitate information sharing and evidence gathering in trafficking cases. In addition, law enforcement officials cooperated with foreign counterparts to investigate the trafficking of Thai victims abroad.

RTP continued to hold an annual workshop for police officers with experience investigating trafficking cases, as well as seminars for police on investigations and victim identification; 580 police officers attended these workshops and seminars in 2020. RTP also organized a seminar attended by police commanders, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) and Ministry of Labor (MOL) officials, and civil society representatives, on applying trauma-informed approaches in trafficking investigations. The OAG partnered with an NGO to organize trainings for 23 prosecutors on trauma-informed procedures in trafficking cases in July 2020. DSI and the Ministry of Interior organized trainings on child sexual exploitation, including internet-facilitated trafficking, which included speakers from Thai agencies as well as officials from foreign governments. The Courts of Justice collaborated with a foreign government to host a roundtable meeting for 49 judges and prosecutors to exchange best practices on prosecuting trafficking cases and using trauma-informed approaches with victims participating in the judicial process. In addition, the Office of the Judiciary held three seminars for judges in Chiang Rai, Trang, and Udon Thani on addressing evidentiary issues in trafficking cases. While the government made efforts to move some trainings online due to the pandemic, many trainings, especially in local districts, were not held in 2020. In addition, observers reported that trainings did not often reach many provincial level officials, which contributed to a lack of understanding of trafficking, especially forced labor.

Corruption and official complicity facilitated trafficking and continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts. NGOs’ perceptions of corruption made them reluctant to work with the government or certain agencies in some cases. Some police may have purposely compromised investigations and failed to provide prosecutors sufficient evidence to prosecute trafficking cases. Some law enforcement officials were reluctant to investigate influential boat owners and captains, as well as other offenders who were or had connections to high-ranking government officials. However, observers reported DSI officers resisted intimidation by influential individuals connected to trafficking cases. For example, in December 2020, DSI arrested the owner of a fishing vessel who was also a local government official, for human trafficking charges. The Deputy Prime Minister chaired the National Committee on Prevention of Official Complicity in Human Trafficking, which created a center for receiving complaints of official complicity, took steps to provide rewards for officials who provided information related to trafficking cases, and worked with the media to report stories on officials working to combat trafficking. Following an outbreak of COVID-19 among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon in December 2020, the Prime Minister ordered police to establish a committee to investigate official complicity in the smuggling of migrant workers, which led to the investigation of 33 police officers and state officials.

The government reported initiating investigations of nine officials accused of complicity in trafficking crimes in 2020, compared with two investigations in 2019. Of these nine, one remained under investigation, RTP and DSI completed investigations of eight, and prosecutors found sufficient evidence to prosecute two. The government reported six were found to be negligent of their duties and subjected to disciplinary actions. Among previously reported cases, the government initiated prosecutions of eight allegedly complicit officials, and convicted and sentenced five to terms of imprisonment in 2020 (14 convictions in 2019). AMLO issued orders to seize approximately 1.2 million baht ($40,110) in assets from two officials in trafficking cases in 2020. Of the 73 officials the government investigated for official complicity since 2012, eight remained under investigation, four were under prosecutors’ consideration, eight were under the consideration of the court of first instance, 32 were under appeal, eight were imprisoned, 11 were acquitted of charges, and two fled charges. The government utilized administrative punishments against some suspected complicit officials rather than criminally investigating and prosecuting them.

The government decreased efforts to identify and protect victims; officials identified significantly fewer victims in 2020 than in previous years, and it continued to make inadequate efforts to protect forced labor victims. The government identified 230 trafficking victims in 2020, compared with approximately 868 victims identified in 2019, and 631 in 2018. Of the 230 trafficking victims Thai officials identified, 81—who were mostly Thai—chose not to reside in government shelters, while eight victims resided in NGO government-registered shelters. The 148 trafficking victims whom MSDHS reported assisting in government and NGO shelters (a significant decrease from 610 in 2019) included 77 Thai and 71 foreign victims, 57 male and 91 female victims, and 78 victims of sex trafficking and 70 victims of labor trafficking (170 victims of sex trafficking and 440 victims of labor trafficking in 2019). The government did not report if immigration authorities screened migrants in immigration detention centers for victims of trafficking in 2020, compared with 7,156 screened in 2019. In the previous reporting period, NGOs reported that authorities decreased efforts to cooperate with them to screen for trafficking victims among this population.

MDTs, which comprised government agencies and NGOs, utilized standard screening guidelines to formally identify victims and refer them to services. Effective implementation of identification procedures by MDTs continued to be inconsistent throughout Thailand’s 77 provinces, including due to of a lack of understanding of trafficking among some officials. In some instances, civil society organizations reported identifying trafficking victims among those whom government officials screened but did not identify as trafficking victims. The government relied on MDTs, which sometimes included local police officers, provincial MSDHS staff, and local labor officials who did not have sufficient experiences working trafficking cases, to confirm an individual as a trafficking victim. The frequent rotation of police officers also meant officers with experience working trafficking cases were rotated out of their positions and often replaced with inexperienced officers, which prevented stable trafficking expertise in some MDTs. Some officials utilized practices during MDT victim interviews that hindered the ability of victims to recount their exploitation. For example, officials have allowed employers of potential victims to be present during victim interviews, some MDT interviews involved an excessive number of officials, and officials did not sufficiently coordinate during interviews. MDTs were also sometimes reluctant to make identifications unless a case was likely to result in a successful prosecution. Some officials failed to recognize trafficking cases that did not involve physical force or overt signs of coercion, such as delayed or non-payment of wages, debt-based coercion, and document confiscation. Anecdotal reports suggested some government officials were reluctant to receive complaints or to identify victims due to fears it would indicate law enforcement incompetence or a failure of the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. The government continued to distribute a handbook in seven languages informing victims of their legal rights under the trafficking law, including access to services.

Section 29 of the anti-trafficking law required officials to take suspected trafficking victims into the government’s custody for no more than 24 hours, or up to eight days with the permission of a court. During this period, MDTs conducted victim identification interviews, and formal identification by MDTs was necessary for victims to obtain a legal right to services, including access to the government’s trafficking shelters. This acted as a significant barrier for some victims who were not physically or psychologically prepared to undergo the MDT identification process to obtain services. Further, the absence of a suitable reflection period and where victims could access stabilizing services from the government did not allow officials sufficient time to build rapport and trust with victims, including to obtain sufficient information to make a formal identification and to encourage victims’ participation in investigations. Consequently, victims frequently sought temporary care from NGOs, which did not receive government funding, before they were prepared to undergo the MDT interview process. During the reporting period, the government created a working group, which included civil society organizations, to consider adopting a national referral mechanism and reflection period for victims.

The government continued to refer victims formally identified by MDTs to government-operated shelters where they had access to counseling, legal assistance, medical care, civil compensation, financial aid, witness protection, education or vocational trainings, and employment opportunities. However, authorities made the provision of some services contingent upon victims’ willingness to participate in law enforcement investigations. The government provided repatriation assistance to some victims regardless of whether they participated in law enforcement investigations. MSDHS operated 76 short-stay shelters and nine long-term regional trafficking shelters, including four dedicated to adult male victims and families, four for female victims, and one for male child victims. The government only permitted foreign victims who held a valid visa or work permit at the time of their identification to stay outside government shelters during legal proceedings against their traffickers. Undocumented foreign victims of trafficking were sometimes required to remain in government shelters while the government processed applications for permits to temporarily stay and work in Thailand; in some cases, after these permits were approved, victims were required to stay in government shelters. MSDHS trafficking shelters did not allow some victims—including adults—to leave without permission, which was determined on a case-by-case basis; only victims who received permission to work outside shelters could leave the shelter on a regular basis for work. Furthermore, victims were often required to stay in shelters until the completion of proceedings or advanced testimony against their traffickers, even in cases in which they were physically and psychologically ready to exit the shelter system. In addition, shelter staff sometimes required victims to obtain permission to make personal phone calls and often monitored their calls. While some shelters provided victims with routine phone access, it was reportedly standard practice to confiscate victims’ personal cell phones when they entered shelters and in some cases shelter staff did not let victims immediately notify their families of their location and status. The government reported victims who had completed the process of participating as witnesses in prosecutions against their traffickers were permitted to use communication devices without supervision. Requiring victims to remain in shelters longer than necessary, combined with the restrictions on their movement and communication during shelter stays, likely contributed to some victims’ re-traumatization and inhibited their ability to earn an income. For some foreign victims, especially Rohingya, the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities and some shelter officials cited fears Rohingya would “flee” shelters as a rationale for restricting their freedom of movement. The government permitted 52 victims to work outside shelters in 2020. While the government made efforts to reduce the length of prosecutions and thereby decrease the amount of time victims had to stay in shelters, the required shelter stays continued to deter foreign victims from cooperating with law enforcement, with some preferring to be deported to their home countries instead. The government permitted some victims to reside at and obtain services at three government-registered NGO shelters; although victims obtaining these services could still obtain compensation from the government’s anti-trafficking fund, the government did not provide these shelters with additional funding to support their operations. In addition, observers reported strict requirements for NGO-operated shelters to receive permission to assist formally identified victims made it challenging for additional NGOs to obtain this registration.

NGOs reported MSDHS shelter directors had significant influence over their individual shelters, which often resulted in inconsistent policies and provision of care to victims. While MSDHS increased the number of social workers and psychologists, government shelters often lacked adequate numbers of psychologists and staff trained on trauma-informed care, inhibiting victims from obtaining psycho-social care. Contacts reported that shelters did not always provide victims with individualized care or private counseling, and instead relied on group counseling sessions with social workers. Trafficking shelters dedicated to assist women primarily served sex trafficking victims and were not fully prepared to provide appropriate care to labor trafficking victims. MSDHS shelters were not equipped to provide adequate accommodations for victims with disabilities and did not provide specialized services to boys and LGBTQI+ victims. In 2020, MSDHS designated an area in every trafficking shelter to house and provide services to LGBTQI+ victims. Government shelters often lacked sufficient numbers of interpreters, especially for Rohingya victims, which weakened their ability to provide adequate services to victims; however the government reported organizing weekly schedules for victims to access interpreters while in shelters during the reporting period. NGOs reported interpreters who participated in victim identification interviews and in court proceedings were not always trained to assist in trafficking cases or often inappropriately communicated with victims, sometimes by attempting to convince victims to not report their exploitation or recommending they confess to unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. MSDHS provided vocational training activities in shelters, and victims could earn a minor income from activities such as craft-making. However, observers reported inadequate options for vocational training and work offered in shelters. Thai law permitted foreign trafficking victims and witnesses to stay and work in Thailand for up to two years upon the completion of legal proceedings against their traffickers; MSDHS granted the requests for six victims to obtain this status during the reporting period. NGOs reported inconsistent experiences among shelters in assisting victims to obtain this right.

The government continued to identify a low number of labor trafficking victims compared to the scope of the problem. Experts reported government officials did not take sufficient steps to proactively identify labor trafficking victims and varying levels of understanding of labor trafficking existed among officials. The adoption of Section 6/1, in the absence of implementing guidelines, also contributed to confusion among many officials on how to use this forced labor provision in addition to the existing trafficking provision when assessing labor trafficking cases. In the previous reporting period, the government revised the preliminary victim identification form to include victims of forced labor, as defined under Section 6/1, and reported assigning MSDHS to develop additional guidelines for MDT victim interviews and organize trainings on the new form. MSDHS reported conducting nationwide trainings on the use of the revised form. Labor inspectors and members of the Royal Thai Navy screened migrant workers for trafficking during inspections, including during inspections of fishing vessels, and were required to refer all potential trafficking victims to MDTs for formal identification and service referral. However, NGOs reported inconsistent interviewing practices during vessel inspections continued to result in ineffective efforts to identify labor trafficking victims among migrant fishermen. Furthermore, a distrust of inspectors deterred workers from reporting exploitation. Officials sometimes encouraged exploited workers in various sectors who were likely victims of forced labor to mediate their situation with their employer or referred their cases to labor courts, rather than recognizing them as trafficking victims and recommending criminal investigation of their cases. Labor inspectors could be held personally liable for claims of abuse of power under Thai law, which may have discouraged them from reporting suspected exploitation.

Authorities facilitated the return of 59 Thais exploited abroad (123 in 2019), including 10 confirmed trafficking victims (25 in 2019), by providing funding for travel expenses, legal assistance, job placement, and other reintegration services. MSDHS assisted in the reintegration of 127 Thai survivors who completed the protection process in Thailand; the government reported it assigned social workers to maintain contact with Thai victims for at least one year after their reintegration. Officials utilized approximately 1.21 million baht ($40,440) from the government’s anti-trafficking fund for aiding in the repatriation of 262 foreign survivors, mostly from Burma and Laos, who completed the protection process in Thailand; the government did not report how many victims it repatriated in 2019 but reported repatriating 201 in 2018. The government also assisted 20 foreign survivors who could not return to their country of origin to resettle in a third country. However, experts have reported Thai authorities did not always follow procedures for safely repatriating foreign victims.

The government operated seven child advocacy centers (CACs), which served as child-friendly spaces where law enforcement, NGOs, and social workers could conduct forensic interviews of child trafficking victims. In some cases, the government permitted NGOs to observe law enforcement operations and provide assistance to identified victims. Some judges lacked sufficient understanding of trauma-informed care, which resulted in harmful treatment of victims during court proceedings; the government postponed a planned training for judges due to the pandemic. While courts reportedly followed protocols to protect victims and witness in most instances, NGOs have reported some incidents where the court failed to provide a non-confrontational cross-examining area, despite advance request, and asked witnesses to verbally confirm sensitive information in front of the suspects during proceedings. The 2016 Beggar Control Act provided for health and social services to individuals engaged in begging activities, including trafficking victims. The government reported identifying only two victims of forced begging in 2020 (nine in 2019). In Phuket, officials identified and provided assistance to 17 child labor trafficking victims who were compelled to sell items on the street; however, NGOs reported the government lacked clear policies related to the protection of this population throughout the country. Despite reports children were exploited in forced labor in other sectors, such as agriculture or domestic work, the government did not identify any additional child labor trafficking victims in 2020.

As part of the government’s pandemic response, all agencies were required to reduce spending by 10 percent. MSHDS reduced its trafficking budget by 42.5 million baht ($1.42 million) as a result; however, it reported that the reduction was largely offset by moving trainings and other events to online formats and cancelling overseas travel, and thus it did not reallocate any funding meant for direct victim assistance. In 2020, the government provided 7.63 million baht ($255,010) to trafficking victims from its anti-trafficking fund, including 849,187 baht ($28,380) that went to victims residing outside government shelters, a decrease from 11.87 million baht ($396,720) in 2019. In some cases in which victims had returned to their home countries, the government used electronic transfers to enable victims to access funds without returning to Thailand. Thai law legally obligated prosecutors to file restitution claims when a victim expressed intention to make a claim. The Human Trafficking Criminal Procedures Act allowed judges to award compensation or restitution to victims, including in the absence of a victim request for these funds. The government filed reinstitution claims for 94 victims (38 Thai victims and 56 foreign victims) and reported courts ordered 26 million baht ($868,980) in restitution for victims, a decrease compared with 54 million baht ($1.8 million) in 2019. However, the execution of court ordered restitution was lacking, especially for foreign victims. MSDHS operated a unit under its anti-trafficking division to provide victims legal assistance and file compensation claims and utilized guidelines to enhance the efficacy of filing such claims. The Thai Cabinet approved a draft amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 1999 that would expand the right of trafficking victims to obtain compensation from assets forfeited from traffickers; the amendment was pending submission to Parliament at the end of the reporting period.

MSDHS continued to operate a mobile application for trafficking victims and witnesses to report exploitation and request protective services, including interpretation, and it provided information on the rights of trafficking victims in seven languages; 32 potential trafficking cases were reported through this application in 2020, compared with seven in 2019. MSDHS and MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 19 foreign languages. In 2020, the MSDHS trafficking hotline received calls related to 70 possible trafficking cases, including nine involving forced labor (162 cases in 2019); officials referred 58 of these cases to relevant authorities for further investigation. MOL employed 67 language coordinators (91 in 2019) and 118 interpreters (99 in 2019) in 2020.

The law protected victims from prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, flaws in the government’s implementation of victim identification procedures increased the risk of authorities penalizing victims, including for prostitution and immigration violations. This deterred some undocumented foreign victims who feared risks of arrests and deportation from reporting their exploitation to authorities. Contacts reported some Rohingya migrants, including potential trafficking victims, were identified as “illegal aliens” by Thai authorities, detained indefinitely or deported to Burma where they likely faced retribution or hardship. Observers reported the government enabled some employers to retaliate against migrant workers and activists seeking to improve working conditions, including by dismissing workers. In addition, Thailand’s criminal defamation laws continued to allow companies to pursue criminal charges against potential victims and advocates, including through strategic lawsuits against public participation, which resulted in advocates facing years of legal harassment. For example, since 2016 a company has pursued more than 37 complaints against rights advocates for reporting on the exploitation of 14 Burmese workers who were subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor. While Thai courts overturned or dismissed charges against some of these advocates during the reporting period, the company continued to appeal the government’s decisions, which leaves these advocates facing ongoing judicial actions. Observers continued to report these types of cases deterred advocates and victims from reporting exploitation. Despite making amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in March 2019 that would enable courts to immediately dismiss cases filed with dishonest intent or to intimidate the defendants, as well as amendments in February 2019 that strengthened the rights of defendants in cases where their employers filed criminal defamation charges, the government did not report utilizing these amendments to drop criminal defamation charges pursued against advocates. The government also amended the anti-trafficking law in 2015 to provide protection to whistleblowers but reported that no whistleblowers have requested this protection to date.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Prime Minister oversaw the government’s anti-trafficking efforts through the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee, which coordinated policies and strategies across agencies. In addition, the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a committee to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The government also continued to monitor its progress to combat trafficking through data collection and annual reports to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. In 2020, the government allocated approximately 4.02 billion baht ($134.36 million) towards its prevention and suppression of trafficking budget, compared with approximately 3.8 billion ($127.01 million) in 2019. It conducted campaigns through newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards, and handouts to raise public awareness throughout the country. Officials conducted numerous outreach activities to raise awareness of trafficking among school children, teachers, and community leaders. Addressing an increasing occurrence of online sexual exploitation of children, the government distributed booklets to parents, teachers, and students on the risk of online sexual exploitation and how to report suspected cases or to seek assistance. TICAC and CAC’s collaborated with NGOs and the OAG to conduct 18 awareness raising talks on online sexual exploitation for students and teachers in 2020. In addition, the foreign affairs ministry conducted awareness campaigns on trafficking risks, including by sharing information through social media, for Thai nationals abroad.

Thai law permitted recruitment agencies to charge a limited amount of recruitment fees to Thais seeking overseas employment. Excessive fees incurred by some workers charged by unscrupulous recruitment agencies made them vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Through government-to-government formal migration channels, the government assisted 2,978 Thais to obtain employment abroad in 2020—which was significantly fewer than the 11,886 assisted in 2019 due to the impacts of the pandemic—including by providing job placement assistance. In addition, 14 provincial employment offices provided training, including on trafficking risks, to 1,891 Thai workers prior to their overseas employment. In 2020, the government conducted 133 inspections of employment agencies that recruited Thai workers but did not find any unlawful practices. It investigated 65 reports of brokers operating without a license. The government operated 12 labor offices in countries with high amounts of Thai workers; these offices conducted 1,630 inspections, assisted more than 7,684 workers, and trained 703 labor volunteers to assist in the identification of labor violations and trafficking among Thai workers. MOL and RTP collaborated to investigate unauthorized, online advertisements for jobs for Thai workers overseas which led to the investigation of 128 cases.

The government maintained bilateral memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with neighboring countries to recruit migrant workers to Thailand, and 111,429 workers were recruited through MOUs in 2020. However, high costs, difficulties in obtaining identity documents in home countries, and other administrative barriers continued to impede greater utilization of these MOUs and also resulted in workers relying on brokers’ assistance. The complicated nature of the government migrant worker registration process often resulted in workers’ reliance on brokers and employers, who often charged excessive fees to workers to obtain documents, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt-based coercion. The 2018 Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers regulated the recruitment and employment of migrant workers in Thailand. The Ordinance required employers to provide workers a copy of their employment contracts and to cover some costs, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs associated with bringing migrant workers to Thailand and back to their home countries when employment ends. However, it did not prohibit employers and recruiters from charging migrant workers with some costs related to their recruitment, such as expenses for passports, medical checks, and work permits. NGOs reported the regulations on recruitment fees were poorly defined and enforced, and recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay recruitment fees and transportation costs. To accommodate Burmese, Cambodian, and Laotian workers whose work permits had expired but were unable to return due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Thai Cabinet approved measures to extend their work permits to allow them to legally work in Thailand until March 31, 2022. However, NGOs reported that fees associated with obtaining renewed work permits likely deterred some workers from applying for these permits and contributed to debt-based coercion, and that workers faced barriers applying due to the requirement or relied on brokers to assist them to register. This meant many workers continued to work without legal status and were likely at risk of exploitation, including debt-based coercion, by brokers and employers. The government also facilitated the return of more than 80,000 migrant workers from Myanmar to voluntarily return home.

NGOs and international organizations widely reported the government did not adequately enforce minimum wage laws and lacked legislation mandating minimum wages in sectors with high employment of migrant workers, such as seasonal agriculture. Labor laws prevented migrant workers from forming labor unions which may have further contributed to exploitation. The 2018 Royal Ordinance prohibited employers from deducting more than 10 percent of workers’ monthly salaries for personal expenses and the retention of travel or other personal documents; the law prescribed penalties of fines ranging from 10,000-100,000 baht ($334-$3,340) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers who violated these rules. It enabled employers to retain workers’ documents if they obtained their consent and if the employer provided access to the documents; however, observers reported that because enforcement was lacking, in some cases this facilitated the ability of unscrupulous employers to retain workers’ documents, especially in cases in which workers were not familiar with their rights under Thai law. The government did not report investigating illegal retention of documents or salary deductions. Observers reported that while the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW) was responsible for monitoring for illegal deductions, the Department of Employment (DOE) conducted labor inspections of recruitment agencies but did not frequently refer suspected cases of illegal deductions to DLPW. Many employers and brokers who bore the upfront costs associated with bringing workers to Thailand indebted workers to pay these fees through illegal salary deductions, often without workers’ knowledge. Thai law required that employment contracts be provided in Thai, English, and the migrant worker’s language. However, research conducted in previous years found that employers rarely provided workers a contract to keep in their own language in practice. Although government regulations permitted exploited migrant workers to change employers, some policies restricted their ability to do so in practice. NGOs reported the 2018 Royal Ordinance required an employer to submit a letter of resignation to the DOE for a worker to change employers; however, they reportedly rarely did so in practice. Provincial labor offices required workers recruited under MOUs to present many documents that workers often could not provide without NGO or brokers’ assistance to approve job changes. By law, MOU employers could recover costs associated with recruiting a migrant worker from the new employer when a worker requested to change jobs before the end of their employment contract, and some employers charged these workers to obtain their documents, making them susceptible to debt-based coercion. The government did not report investigating employers who illegally charged fees to such migrant workers. The government also permitted migrants to obtain 30-day and 90-day border passes to work in non-seasonal agricultural or manufacturing jobs, including within 10 developing special economic zones, but such temporary working arrangements did not provide workers access to social protections. NGOs reported employers increasingly encouraged workers to obtain these border passes rather than obtain longer term work permits that would provide additional protections. The government reported that labor inspectors conducted inspection of 161 establishments in border areas in 2020 (146 in 2019), finding 146 violations of the law (71 in 2019). The government did not report identifying any cases of trafficking through these efforts but issued corrective orders in 144 cases and initiated prosecution in two cases. In 2020, the government inspected 264 migrant worker recruitment agencies (compared with 244 in 2019) and found two operating in violation of the law. MOL identified labor violations among 2,944 businesses and employers that employed migrant workers in 2020, compared with 2,333 in 2019; of these, the government fined 668 a total of 3.65 million baht ($121,990).

Following the passage of the Fishery Workers Protection Act in 2019, the government enacted two additional subordinate laws in 2020, thereby fully enacting all necessary laws required to fully implement the Act. The Act aimed to improve the effectiveness of labor inspections on fishing vessels, the provision of medical care, and regular reporting of violations of the act. In addition, the government enacted nine subordinate laws under the 2015 Royal Ordinance on Fisheries, to facilitate the issuance and extension of identity documents (seaman’s books) for migrant fishermen. A draft ministerial regulation would reduce the legal minimum age of relatives of a vessel’s captain or owners permitted to work on fishing vessels from 18 to 16; NGOs expressed concern that due to inadequate oversight to ensure that children working on fishing vessels were in fact relatives of adult crew members, this change may put children at risk of forced labor on fishing vessels. In addition, there were concerns the draft regulation did not ensure adequate work and rest hours for fishermen, would not require employers to provide workers a contract in their own language, would allow for wage deductions without the written consent of the worker, and permitted vessels to remain at sea for up to a year, which would limit the ability of workers to report exploitation to authorities or to seek assistance. A lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels heightened their risk of trafficking. The 2018 Ministerial Regulation on Labor Protection for Sea Fishers required employers to pay workers’ salaries at least once per month through electronic deposits and to share catch profits. While this system received overall praise from civil society observers, some continued to report concerns that some workers were unable to access their funds due to a lack of ATMs near some ports, insufficient training on how to use the system, and the withholding of workers’ ATM cards and PINs by vessel owners, captains, or brokers. In addition, while the electronic payment system increased the ability of labor inspectors to verify wage payments, previous reports indicated that unscrupulous employers continued to make regular electronic payments in their employees’ accounts to satisfy the legal requirement but made illegal withdrawals.

The government operated five post-arrival and reintegration centers that assisted migrant workers who entered Thailand through the MOU process by providing information on labor rights, Thai culture, employment contracts, trafficking awareness, and complaint mechanisms; in 2020, these centers assisted 111,429 migrant workers. However, due to the limited amount of time workers were present at these centers, which was usually immediately after workers had completed their travel to Thailand, officials were only able to provide them with limited information in practice. In addition, previous reports indicated labor officials interviewed workers in the presence of their employers and brokers, and armed police, at post-arrival centers, which may have deterred workers from reporting exploitation. MOL also worked with NGOs to provide services at 10 migrant worker assistance centers, including to receive complaints of labor violations, assist workers to change employers, and update workers’ registration documents. The government continued to work with NGO-operated centers located near fishing markets to provide skills training, health screenings, and other resources to raise awareness of workers’ rights. Provincial labor offices, migrant worker assistance centers, and other government agencies did not adequately investigate migrant workers complaints, or refer suspected labor violations, including those indicative of forced labor, to relevant agencies. In addition, workers’ past negative interactions with authorities and a lack of availability of interpreters at some labor offices deterred migrant workers from reporting exploitation.

The Department of Fisheries (DOF) oversaw the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing, which operated 32 port-in port-out (PIPO) centers and 19 additional forward inspection points (FIP). Some observers reported that since authority of PIPO moved from the Royal Thai Navy to DOF in 2019, it has experienced a loss of influence and inspections have weakened. PIPO centers performed inspections to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally and implemented a risk-based assessment system to identify target vessels for inspection. According to one NGO, some PIPO centers did not appropriately apply the risk assessment and sometimes failed to inspect vessels due to a lack of resources or an assumption that some vessels did not require inspection. In addition, an observer noted the risk assessment did not include indicators such as a vessel previously recorded as failing to record working hours, retaining workers’ documents, having labor intensive gear, or experiencing labor disputes or crewmembers lost at sea. In 2020, the government reported conducting labor inspections of 55,818 fishing vessels (44,322 in 2019) and identifying 19 vessels in violation of labor laws (20 in 2019). In addition, it conducted at-sea inspections of 842 vessels, but found only one case involving labor violations, which involved employing workers without seaman’s books. The government has never reported identifying trafficking victims as a result of PIPO labor inspections. NGOs have reported assisting victims of trafficking who underwent PIPO inspections but whom authorities did not identify as victims. The Royal Thai Navy, in cooperation with other agencies also inspected vessels at sea to identify smuggled migrants, and found 466 cases of migrant smuggling in 2020, but it did not report screening these individuals for trafficking. At-sea inspections did not include sufficient checks for labor violations or consistently have interpreters available for interviewing foreign crewmembers.

Despite using a manual on standardized inspection practices introduced in 2019, PIPO labor inspections continued to be inconsistent and ineffective at identifying potential cases of forced labor on fishing vessels. Some inspection teams did not use victim-centered interview practices, lacked interpreters for some workers’ languages, did not board vessels during inspections, did not interview workers or separate workers away from owners, captains, or brokers when interviews were conducted, or conduct pre- and post- inspection team meetings away from vessel owners or captains. Some of these practices likely prevented authorities from identifying trafficking victims and deterred workers or inspectors from revealing information due to fears of retaliation. Furthermore, PIPO officials sometime reportedly ignored complaints made by migrant workers or told them to report their exploitation to another agency, and there was no standard or required protocol for labor inspectors to refer potential cases of forced labor to law enforcement or MDTs. PIPOs did not universally apply a standardized procedure for referring cases of fishermen who went missing at sea, including to identify indicators of trafficking on the vessels in which they went missing, and the number of crewmembers who went missing at sea continued to increase; in 2020 there were 63 missing fishermen, compared with 29 in 2019.

As a result of the government’s pandemic-mitigation efforts, it decreased the budget for labor inspections by 72 percent; however, the government increased the number of inspectors and conducted a comparable number of inspections as in 2020. In 2020, DLPW conducted 1,924 inspections at high-risk workplaces and seafood processing facilities (2,116 in 2019), finding 1,629 workplaces operating in violation of labor laws (1,017 in 2020). Labor inspectors could not enter some business establishments due to pandemic-related health precautions. Previous reports indicated some factories received advance warning of labor inspections, which may have hampered the ability of officials to identify labor violations, including those indicative of forced labor. DPLW identified 10 enterprises that violated child labor laws, involving 44 children but did not report any cases of child labor trafficking. A lack of access to remote workplaces prevented sufficient child labor inspections in some informal sectors. Following an outbreak of COVID-19 among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, the government instituted extreme measures to contain the virus by forcibly quarantining migrant workers, including those who tested negative for the virus, in their dormitories with fencing and barbed wire. Contacts reported these measures made workers distrustful of government officials and likely reduced the likelihood they were willing to report exploitation to authorities. The Ministry of Justice proposed a plan to recruit inmates with three to five years left in prison to work in the seafood sector on a voluntary basis; observers expressed concern that it may be difficult to determine if all inmates volunteered for this work and that they could face forms of coercion to participate in this work. The government continued to grant citizenship to stateless persons. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by displaying a video in four languages discouraging child sex tourism in Thai airports and on Thai airline flights. In addition, the government coordinated with foreign governments to deny entry to known sex offenders. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Thailand, and traffickers exploit Thai victims abroad. Labor and sex traffickers exploit women, men, LGBTQI+ individuals, and children from Thailand, other Southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka, Russia, Uzbekistan, and some African countries in Thailand. Members of ethnic minorities, highland persons, and stateless persons in Thailand have experienced instances of abuse indicative of trafficking. North Koreans working in Thailand may have been forced to work by the North Korean government. Children from Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia are victims of sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlors, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels, and private residences. Traffickers induce young Thai girls and boys to perform sex acts through videos and photos on the internet, sometimes by blackmailing victims with explicit images. Children are lured by traffickers into commercial sex through the internet, chat and dating applications, as well as other social networking platforms. Children in orphanages are at risk of trafficking. Children of families that lost employment due to the impacts of pandemic, including among migrant families, were increasingly at risk of trafficking. Approximately 177,000 Thai children, mostly boys, are involved in child labor, including in agriculture, auto repair and other service trades, construction, manufacturing, and in the hospitality industry, and were at risk of facing conditions indicative of forced labor. More than half of these children are not in school, and many worked in hazardous conditions, with long and irregular working hours, and were at risk of sexual exploitation. Some parents or brokers force children from Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma to sell flowers or other items in streets, beg, or work in domestic service in urban areas. Elderly persons and persons with disabilities from Cambodia are also forced to beg in Thailand.

Traffickers subject Thai nationals to forced labor and sex trafficking in countries in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Thai women and LGBTQI+ individuals were increasingly exploited in Switzerland in sex trafficking. Thai citizens who travel to Norway for family reunification are at risk of sex and labor trafficking. Traffickers subject some Thai men and women to forced labor in Israel’s agricultural sector, imposing conditions of long working hours, no breaks or rest days, withheld passports, and difficulty changing employers due to limitations on work permits. Approximately 185,000 Thais work in South Korea, where traffickers subject Thai men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking, including by forcing victims who owe debts to entertainment establishment owners or loan sharks into commercial sex.

Traffickers and smugglers operating between Burma and Thailand charge Burmese migrants approximately 10,000 to 70,000 baht ($334-$2,340) to smuggle them into Thailand. Observers reported these smuggling networks are supported by complicit police, military, and other local authorities. In early 2020, an estimated 60,000-200,000 migrant workers departed Thailand prior to and following pandemic-related border closures. Many of these workers subsequently returned to Thailand undocumented throughout 2020, often paying fees to smugglers to facilitate their return, increasing their risk to debt-based coercion. Smugglers, brokers, employers, and others exploit Thai and migrant workers in labor trafficking in commercial fishing and related industries, the poultry industry, manufacturing, agriculture, domestic work, and street begging. Many workers pay high fees to brokers, recruitment agencies, and others before and after they arrive in Thailand. Traffickers often use debt-based coercion, deceptive recruitment practices, retention of identity documents and ATM cards, illegal wage deductions, physical violence, and other means to subject victims to forced labor. Employers confiscate workers identity documents as a means to compel workers to remain in their jobs, especially in agricultural plantations, often in addition to paying below the minimum wage and failing to provide workers a day off. Workers in the seafood processing and fishing sectors increasingly faced forced overtime as a result of increasing demand for shelf-stable seafood during the pandemic, as well as unsafe working conditions.

Vessel owners, brokers, and senior vessel crew subject Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Indonesian men and boys to forced labor on Thai and foreign-owned fishing boats. Some are paid little or irregularly, incur debts from brokers and employers, work as much as 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, and without adequate food, water, or medical supplies. Some boat captains threaten, beat, and drug fishermen to work longer, and sell fishermen drugs as a means to generate additional debt. Some trafficking victims in the fishing sector had difficulty returning home due to isolated workplaces, unpaid wages, and the lack of legitimate identity documents or safe means to travel. Employers in fishing and seafood processing often made confusing wage deductions for documentation fees, advances, and other charges, making it difficult for workers to account for their wages accurately. Research published in 2019 and 2020 found that between 14 and 18 percent of migrant fishermen were exploited in forced labor in the Thai fishing industry, indicating traffickers exploited thousands of workers on fishing vessels.

Corruption continues to undermine anti-trafficking efforts. Some government officials are directly complicit in trafficking crimes, including through accepting bribes or loans from business owners and brothels that exploit victims. Corrupt immigration officials facilitate trafficking by accepting bribes from brokers and smugglers along Thai borders. Credible reports indicate some corrupt officials protect brothels, other commercial sex venues, factory owners, and fishing vessel owners from raids, inspections, and prosecutions, and collude with traffickers. Some local police reportedly withhold information from prosecutors to protect traffickers. Some government officials profit from bribes and direct involvement in extortion from and exploitation of migrants.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future