Brunei (Tier 3)

The Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Brunei was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including initiating a labor trafficking prosecution, increasing investigations of potential trafficking crimes, and continuing construction of dedicated male and female trafficking shelters. However, for the fifth consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers under its trafficking statute. For the second consecutive year, the government did not identify any trafficking victims. The government continued to detain, deport, and charge potential victims for crimes without employing a victim-centered approach to discern if traffickers compelled the victims to engage in the unlawful acts.

  • 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 (SOPs) for victim identification, and train all relevant officials on the procedures, emphasizing a focus on vulnerable populations, such as individuals in commercial sex, domestic workers, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrant workers, including People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals employed at worksites affiliated with PRC-based companies.
  • Cease the inappropriate arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit.
  • Train judges on accurate and effective implementation of trafficking laws, including through understanding the many ways coercion can be applied.
  • Train investigators and prosecutors on building trafficking cases, including collecting evidence to corroborate victim testimony.
  • Increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing at-will communication with people outside shelter facilities and issuing work permits to all victims.
  • Establish a formal communication mechanism to regularly collaborate and learn from foreign government embassies about suspected trafficking crimes.
  • Ensure migrant worker contracts and information on their rights and obligations under Brunei law are available in migrant workers’ primary languages and that workers can retain a copy.
  • Issue guidelines on the prohibition of recruitment agencies charging or receiving worker-funded fees and enforce the prohibition.
  • Implement the victims’ fund to allow those funds to be paid directly to victims as compensation.
  • 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.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2019 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 10,000 and 1 million Brunei dollars (BND) ($7,400 and $739,640), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The penal code also criminalized travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The government may have also utilized Chapter 120 Section 5 of the Women and Girls Prosecution Act, which addresses “living on or trading in prostitution,” to prosecute potential sex trafficking crimes. The act prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000, which were significantly lower than those available under the trafficking law.

Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF), labor, and immigration officers referred 134 suspected trafficking crimes to the human trafficking unit (HTU) for review and potential investigation, a decrease compared with 147 cases in 2020. The HTU was responsible for formally identifying trafficking cases and reviewed case reports to look for trafficking crimes, particularly in cases involving commercial sex, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers. The government investigated 14 cases as potential trafficking crimes, four for sex trafficking and 10 for forced labor, compared with three investigations the previous year. The government prosecuted its first labor trafficking case. Despite a 2004 law criminalizing labor trafficking and repeated reports that a significant number of migrant workers in Brunei exhibited multiple trafficking indicators, the government had never prosecuted a labor trafficking case. Authorities investigated, and the attorney general’s chambers (AGC) charged, an alleged trafficker with six counts of people trafficking, and the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. For the fifth consecutive year, courts did not convict any traffickers under its trafficking statute; the government’s most recent trafficking convictions were of three traffickers in 2016. In practice, investigators required proof of physical force, fraud, or physical coercion for a trafficking crime. As a result, and inconsistent with the 2019 law, officials did not investigate or prosecute as trafficking cases in which the alleged traffickers used non-physical forms of coercion. Observers indicated that an overreliance on victim testimony and lack of special investigative measures to corroborate evidence led to cases being investigated and prosecuted under non-trafficking statutes. Government officials ascribed poor prosecutorial efforts to high evidentiary standards, including the definition of exploitation, under the anti-trafficking law, despite the law’s consistency with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Observers reported a fundamental lack of understanding about the pervasiveness of trafficking in Brunei and an institutional lack of understanding of labor-related trafficking indicators, including passport retention and nonpayment of wages, among government officials that hindered anti-trafficking efforts. In addition, observers reported that authorities did not investigate all alleged potential trafficking crimes and focused their efforts on crimes committed by foreign perpetrators rather than Bruneian criminals.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. The government prosecuted government officials involved in visa fraud under non-trafficking laws. Law enforcement officials cooperated with foreign governments on ongoing international trafficking cases; however, the government reportedly did not cooperate with foreign governments on domestic trafficking prosecutions when cases involved foreign nationals. The government trained RBPF, immigration, labor, and anti-vice officers on victim identification and protective services. In addition, the NTHT provided training to law enforcement officials and employers on worker rights and employment laws.

The government decreased efforts to protect victims. The government had SOPs for victim identification, referral, and protection and reportedly used the SOPs to screen potential trafficking cases. However, for the second consecutive year, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims. In addition, the SOPs did not contain adequate measures to screen for trafficking indicators among LGBTQI+ individuals or adults arrested for involvement in commercial sex. In some cases, authorities employed identification measures only after detaining potential victims following law enforcement operations, such as raids in which police arrested foreign women for involvement in commercial sex. Officials may have also detained and deported unidentified trafficking victims for labor or immigration violations. Observers reported authorities prosecuted seven potential trafficking victims and sentenced them for immigration violations, despite them exhibiting multiple trafficking indicators. Foreign government officials continued to report 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. Observers reported the practice of detention and deportation perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, exacerbating significant identification and service provision gaps. Observers noted a need for foreign government embassies and the government to develop a formal communication mechanism to increase collaboration on reports of suspected trafficking crimes.

The government did not report allocating any funding for or directly providing to victims protection services during the reporting period. In the previous reporting period, the government allocated 331,000 BND ($244,820) for trafficking victim protective services; 100,000 BND ($73,960) to a trafficking victim assistance fund; and 231,000 BND ($170,860) to the construction of two trafficking victim shelters to separately accommodate female and male victims, each intended to house up to 20 victims. The government reported construction of the shelters remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report providing any protective services. The government maintained a secure, general-purpose shelter and could provide medical care, counseling, psychological assessment, clothing, meals, and access to vocational training programs and recreational activities to female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims younger than the age of 18. The government indicated it could house adult male victims, if identified, in local hotels until the completion of the trafficking shelter. Shelter officials have permitted victims to make calls home in the presence of an official from their embassy, who could interpret the conversation for authorities. The government has allowed victims to freely leave the shelter without a chaperone and stated it could assist victims to find alternative employment. The Departments of Labor and Immigration could grant victims temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; the government did not report granting any victims work passes. The government reported it maintained a 24-hour trafficking and labor hotline; however, the number was not included on any government online resources, and police were unaware of its existence. Law enforcement officials stated that reports of suspected trafficking crimes must be made in person at a police station, limiting reports of trafficking cases for law enforcement action. 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 decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s interagency anti-trafficking committee met quarterly. The government continued implementation of its National Action Plan, developed in November 2020. 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 still did not issue guidelines on this prohibition, and authorities did not implement oversight of this provision.

The Department of Labor required foreign workers to sign their contracts in the presence of a labor officer to prevent forgery, ensure compliance with the law, and enable the labor official to provide information to the worker on their rights and obligations. The government provided sample migrant worker contracts and employment rights pamphlets in the primary languages of regional labor-source countries; however, all contracts were written the same and did not provide position descriptions or specific details based on the workers’ employment. The government did not ensure the contracts were in the workers’ primary language or that workers retained a copy of the contract. Although Bruneian law prohibited employers from withholding wages more than seven days or retaining employees’ passports, foreign embassies continued to report their citizens commonly experienced both practices. The government reported pandemic restrictions hindered its ability to conduct anti-trafficking roadshows and awareness campaigns. However, a government-owned media outlet continued to publish articles, in English and Malay, on trafficking and labor rights to spread awareness and educate the public on the rights of foreign workers.

When labor officials inspected worksites, they only required migrant workers to show a copy of their passport and visa; authorities did not report fining any employers for not renewing expired workers’ passports held by the employer, compared with 462 employers the previous year, or for labor rights violations, compared with five employers fined the previous year. The government did not take administrative or legal action against employers for passport retention. The government inspected the living conditions of 18 dormitories and required one employer to relocate workers, citing cleanliness and safety issues; the government did not report conducting any trafficking-related screening during these inspections. The government continued to oppose foreign governments’ proposals to establish a minimum wage and require that each worker have a position description. Brunei did not have a minimum wage; salary payments were negotiated in individual contracts. The government did not provide labor officials with legal guidance to determine the fairness of the contracts. The 2009 Employment Order did not require employers to provide a written record of terms to employees not covered under the order, such as domestic workers and fishing crews. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers. While the government reported some diplomats attended an anti-trafficking training presented by a foreign government, it did not report whether it provided regular anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Brunei. There are approximately 75,000 foreign workers in Brunei, mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and the PRC. Men and women migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic service, retail, and construction work. Individuals from the PRC may have been forced to work in Brunei at projects run by PRC-based companies. 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 from 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. Anti-LGBTQI+ laws place some LGBTQI+ individuals at higher risk of extortion and psychological coercion, while already being disproportionately vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers may force some female migrants who arrive in Brunei on tourist visas into sex trafficking. Some traffickers who exploit migrants in Malaysia or Indonesia for sex or labor trafficking use Brunei to transit victims. Trafficking experts in Brunei receive threats from traffickers for their advocacy and involvement in anti-trafficking efforts.

U.S. Department of State

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