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Thailand (Tier 2)

The Government of Thailand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included increasing the number of trafficking investigations, finalizing a national referral mechanism (NRM) that authorized a 45-day reflection period, finalizing implementing guidelines for the forced labor provision of the anti-trafficking law, and initiating investigations of 17 alleged complicit officials in 2021 and sentencing two to terms of imprisonment. The government also established a new trafficking victim identification center, developed guidelines for labor officials to refer suspected trafficking victims to multidisciplinary teams, and identified more victims than in the previous reporting period. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The number of trafficking prosecutions and convictions decreased compared with the previous reporting period. Despite reports that forced labor was prevalent among migrant workers in many industries in Thailand, inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during labor inspections left many labor trafficking victims unidentified, officials often lacked an understanding of indicators of labor trafficking, and Thai authorities have never reported identifying a victim of labor trafficking as a result of fishing vessel inspections conducted at ports. There continued to be significant gaps in the government’s provision of services to victims, and some victims residing in government shelters lacked freedom of movement. Corruption and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts.

  • Increase trafficking prosecutions and convictions, particularly for labor trafficking.
  • Train officials on and ensure effective implementation of new guidelines for the implementation of Section 6/1 of the anti-trafficking law and identification of labor trafficking victims.
  • 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 the use of trauma-informed procedures by government officials during interviews with potential victims, including during labor inspections. • Ensure the effective implementation of the NRM and extension of the new reflection period for victims.
  • Increase awareness among relevant officials of less understood trafficking indicators, such as debt-based coercion, excessive overtime, confiscation of documents, and nonpayment of wages.
  • Ensure government and NGO-operated shelters provide victims with adequate trauma-informed and individualized care, such as legal assistance and psychological care, and develop consistent policies on victim services across all shelters.
  • Ensure labor violations and migrant workers’ complaints that include indicators of forced labor are investigated for trafficking crimes, including by enforcing procedures for labor officials to refer potential cases of labor trafficking to MDTs and law enforcement.
  • Expand 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.
  • 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 and contracts.
  • 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 increased law enforcement efforts; however, the government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers than in 2020. 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 ($11,980 to $35,930) for offenses involving an adult victim and six to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 600,000 to 2 million baht ($17,960 to $59,880) 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 ($1,500 to $11,980) 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 2021, the government reported investigating 188 potential trafficking cases (133 in 2020), initiating prosecutions of 125 suspected traffickers (302 in 2020), and convicting 82 traffickers (233 in 2020). Courts sentenced 75 convicted traffickers in 2021, with approximately 97 percent sentenced to two or more years imprisonment. In 2021, courts issued forfeiture orders for assets valued at approximately 161,066 baht ($4,820) in trafficking cases litigated by the Anti-Money Laundering Office. The Thai Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (TICAC) investigated 79 cases of internet crimes against children in 2021 (94 in 2020), including 11 cases of internet-facilitated trafficking (22 in 2020); TICAC initiated an additional 19 investigations of internet-facilitated trafficking cases in January-March 2022. Officials initiated investigations of 22 potential cases of labor trafficking—including two cases involving the fishing sector—compared to 14 labor trafficking investigations in 2020. NGOs assessed the relatively low number of investigations and prosecutions for labor trafficking stemmed in large part from a lack of understanding of forced labor among officials and a lack of clarity on how to apply Section 6 and Section 6/1 in labor trafficking cases, especially in the absence of implementing guidelines for the majority of the reporting period. Some observers reported officials often did not identify debt-based coercion, excessive overtime, or withholding of wages as indicators of labor trafficking. Police and labor inspectors did not consistently investigate migrant workers’ reports of exploitation that included trafficking indicators, and they often pursued trafficking cases as labor law violations without pursuing criminal prosecutions against traffickers. In some cases, officials encouraged potential trafficking victims to mediate with their employer or referred their cases to labor courts, rather than recognizing them as trafficking victims and recommending criminal investigation of their cases. An NGO from a neighboring country asserted Thai authorities increasingly charged trafficking crimes involving its citizens exploited in Thailand under lesser charges, which impacted the ability of victims to obtain services and compensation, especially in cases involving exploitation in agriculture and child domestic servitude.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) that promoted the use of trauma-informed approaches by prosecutors when interviewing victims and preparing them to provide testimony. While the SOP included a requirement that prosecutors meet with all victims prior to court proceedings, observers previously reported the OAG did not have sufficient capacity to enable prosecutors to meet with and prepare all victims before trials, and NGOs recommended victims partner with NGO or private attorneys for this support. Law enforcement often used the results of victim identification interviews, which observers reported were sometimes ineffective, as the final determination of whether a trafficking case existed. The OAG trafficking litigation unit conducted a study to assess trafficking prosecutions for the purpose of developing a strategy to improve the efficacy of prosecutions. Prosecutors worked with NGOs to prepare victims to testify, courts allowed NGO lawyers to serve as co-plaintiffs in some cases to legally support victims, and government shelters enabled victims to participate in mock courts to prepare them for participating in proceedings against traffickers. However, fears of detention and extended shelter stays, a lack of adequate services, and fears of retaliation from traffickers made some victims reluctant to participate in prosecutions. Some judges and other court officials lacked sufficient understanding of trauma-informed care, which resulted in harmful treatment of victims during court proceedings. For example, while courts reportedly followed protocols to protect victim-witnesses in most instances, NGOs reported some incidents where the court failed to provide a non-confrontational cross examining area, despite advance request, and asked victim-witnesses to verbally confirm sensitive information in front of suspects during proceedings. In March 2022, the government finalized SOPs for trafficking cases for the Courts of Justice to encourage the use of victim-centered approaches during court procedures.

The government operated specialized anti-trafficking divisions within the Bangkok Criminal Court, OAG, Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and Royal Thai Police (RTP). DSI hosted a conference with participants from OAG, RTP, and NGOs, as well as foreign law enforcement liaisons, to strengthen coordination among the anti-trafficking community. Thai authorities continued to share information and evidence with other countries. In addition, law enforcement officials cooperated with foreign counterparts to investigate the trafficking of Thai victims abroad. The government arrested and extradited to Malaysia three suspected traffickers associated with the 2015 discovery of mass graves of Rohingya along the countries’ border.

To address concerns that police officers inexperienced with anti-trafficking efforts were frequently assigned to trafficking cases, in December 2021, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) amended its regulations on qualifications for law enforcement officers, requiring officers assigned to anti-trafficking activities have at least one year of anti-trafficking experience. The government provided numerous workshops and trainings for police, immigration officials, and labor officials on topics including victim identification, labor trafficking, online investigative techniques, and conducing forensic interviews. The OAG collaborated with a foreign government to provide trainings for prosecutors on human trafficking, including Section 6/1 of the anti-trafficking law and child trafficking. OAG also trained prosecutors on victims’ rights and preparing victims for prosecutions against traffickers. The Courts of Justice collaborated with an international organization to provide training for judges overseeing trafficking cases. The government held workshops for law enforcement officers to improve their capacity to successfully prosecute traffickers and assigned those who completed the workshops to supervise other officers on trafficking cases. The OAG’s trafficking litigation unit developed teams of prosecutors with experience working trafficking cases in each region to advise less experienced prosecutors and law enforcement; the government reported these teams deployed within 24 hours after an arrest to advise local officials. With donor support, MSDHS trained 120 officials from numerous agencies to become anti-trafficking specialists; authorities assigned these officials to provide consultation and assistance to provincial officers and MDTs on trafficking prosecutions and victim identification. Some observers reported government trainings often only involved senior officials, rather than working level officers who were more likely to come into contact with potential victims.

A Deputy Prime Minister chaired the National Committee on Prevention of Official Complicity in Human Trafficking. DSI established the Complicit Officials in Human Trafficking Monitoring and Investigation Center, which monitored and investigated suspected complicit officials. DSI also initiated work to establish a database of public officials who worked on trafficking cases, which would allow DSI to monitor the progress of cases. The government reported initiating investigations of 17 officials accused of complicity in trafficking crimes in 2021, compared with nine new investigations in 2020. Of these 17, at the end of the reporting period, seven remained under investigation, eight were under prosecutors’ consideration, one was filed for consideration of the court of first instance, and one was acquitted of charges. Among previously reported cases, in 2021, the government initiated prosecutions of six allegedly complicit officials and sentenced two other officials to terms of imprisonment. Among the 79 officials investigated for official complicity since 2013, by the end of the reporting period, the government had filed 12 for consideration of the court of first instance, convicted and sentenced 38 to terms of imprisonment, and acquitted eight of charges; seven officials remained under investigation, nine were under prosecutors’ consideration, and five fled charges.

The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 414 trafficking victims in 2021, compared with approximately 231 victims identified in 2020 and 868 in 2019. The 414 trafficking victims identified included 151 male and 263 female victims; 72 child victims; 312 Thai, 94 victims from Burma, two Laotian victims and six from unspecified countries; and 181 victims of sex trafficking and 233 victims of labor trafficking. Of the 414 victims identified in 2021, the government reported providing services to 354 (compared to 148 victims identified in 2020), including through the provision of shelter, reintegration support, legal assistance, financial assistance, and other support; 128 received assistance in government shelters, while 20 victims resided in NGO government-registered shelters.

Of the 233 labor trafficking victims identified by Thai authorities in 2021, 109 were Thai victims forced to work for an online gambling website identified in coordination with Cambodian authorities; by the end of the reporting period, the government had identified a total of 227 Thai victims exploited in Cambodia. Authorities identified 90 migrant labor trafficking victims exploited within Thailand in 2021, including two exploited in the fishing sector. Despite reports traffickers exploited children in forced labor in various sectors, the government only identified two child labor trafficking victims in 2021. Authorities did not identify victims in part due to a lack of understanding of labor trafficking among many authorities. In March 2022, the government approved SOPs for the identification of labor trafficking victims and implementation of the 2019 forced labor amendment of the trafficking law (Section 6/1). Labor inspectors and members of the Royal Thai Navy screened migrant workers for trafficking during inspections, including during inspections of fishing vessels. However, inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during inspections left many labor trafficking victims unidentified, including among migrant fishermen. Observers also reported labor inspectors did not understand that part of their role was to identify trafficking victims. In an attempt to improve the effectiveness of inspections, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) developed guidelines in March 2022 to improve inspectors’ ability to identify potential cases of trafficking and authorized inspectors to conduct identification interviews of potential victims; under the new guidelines, inspectors were required to report suspected trafficking cases to law enforcement and MDTs to conduct formal identification interviews. NGOs raised concerns that officials did not screen undocumented migrants for trafficking, particularly those fleeing political instability in Burma, and often detained and deported migrants without screening.

MDTs, which included representatives from government agencies and NGOs, utilized standard screening guidelines to formally identify victims and refer them to services. Adapting to pandemic-related restrictions, some MDTs conducted online victim identification interviews. Officials did not effectively implement identification procedures consistently throughout the country, in part due to a lack of understanding of trafficking among some officials. Some officials utilized practices during victim interviews that hindered the ability of victims to recount their exploitation, such as allowing employers of potential victims to be present during victim interviews. NGOs reported improvement, however, in the use of victim-centered approaches by some RTP officials when conducting victim interviews. The government relied on MDTs, which sometimes included local police officers, provincial MSDHS staff, and local labor officials who at times did not have sufficient experience working trafficking cases, to confirm an individual as a trafficking victim. To address gaps in victim identification among provincial level officials, the government established teams that traveled to support less experienced MDTs in the identification process.

Section 29 of the anti-trafficking law permitted officials to take potential 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; formal identification by MDTs was necessary for victims to obtain a legal right to services, including access to the government’s trafficking shelters. This process acted as a significant barrier for some victims who were not physically or psychologically prepared to undergo the MDT identification process to obtain services. Furthermore, the absence of a suitable reflection period in which 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. In some cases during the reporting period, officials provided victims with additional time to recover before initiating the identification process. In March 2022, the government approved a new NRM, which included guidelines for the screening, identification, and protection process, as well as the extension of a 45-day reflection period to enable officials to provide services to potential victims prior to their formal identification. The government solicited feedback from civil society on the draft NRM prior to its approval.

In December 2021, DSI established a human trafficking victim identification center to accommodate potential victims, prepare them for identification interviews, and to serve as an operations and training center for relevant agencies. 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. While MSDHS reported providing some services to victims who did not agree to participate in the prosecution process, authorities often made the provision of many services contingent upon victims’ willingness to participate 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 typically 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 traffickers; during the year, 13 victims employed as domestic workers resided with their employers, a common practice for domestic workers in Thailand. Authorities sometimes required undocumented foreign victims of trafficking to remain in government shelters while the government processed applications for permits to temporarily stay and work in Thailand. MSDHS trafficking shelters did not allow some victims—including adults—to leave without permission, which authorities 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, authorities often required victims to stay in shelters until the completion of proceedings or advanced testimony against traffickers, even in cases in which they were physically and psychologically ready to exit the shelter system. In addition, shelter staff sometimes restricted victims’ access to personal cell phones, particularly at the beginning of shelter stays, sometimes required victims obtain permission to make personal phone calls, and often monitored their calls. MSDHS did not implement a consistent policy across all shelters to guarantee victims’ rights to communication; however, the government reported it permitted victims who had completed the process of participating as witnesses in prosecutions against traffickers to use communication devices without supervision. Officials said these measures were taken to ensure the victims’ safety and to prevent re-victimization; however, requiring victims to remain in shelters longer than necessary, combined with the restrictions on their movement and communication during shelter stays, may have contributed to some victims’ re-traumatization and inhibited their ability to earn an income. In one region, officials cooperated with an NGO to develop an open-concept shelter, where authorities provided victims full freedom of movement and access to communication devices on a short-term basis.

The government permitted some victims residing in shelters to obtain outside employment; however, 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 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 and obtain services at three government-registered NGO shelters; victims preferred to stay at these shelters over government-operated shelters, in part due to more freedom of movement. Victims obtaining these services could still obtain compensation from the government’s anti-trafficking fund; however, the government did not provide these shelters with additional funding to support their operations. In addition, observers reported that strict requirements for NGO-operated shelters to receive permission to assist formally identified victims made it challenging for additional NGOs to obtain this registration. The government implemented a 7- to 14-day COVID-19 quarantine for victims before they could enter government shelters.

MSDHS shelters employed inconsistent policies and provision of care to victims. Government shelters often lacked adequate numbers of psychologists and staff trained on trauma-informed care, inhibiting victims from obtaining psycho-social care. Shelters did not always provide victims with individualized care or private counseling and instead relied on group counseling sessions with social workers. In 2021, however, shelters began using individual development plans that increased victims’ input into their assistance needs. MSDHS reported all shelters had the capacity to provide temporary accommodation to LGBTQI+ victims, and one shelter could provide long-term accommodation; however, the long-term shelter did not provide separate bedrooms and restroom facilities for LGBTQI+ victims. In addition, aspects of the identification process made it difficult for LGBTQI+ victims to express their gender preferences, and authorities often did not ask victims their shelter preferences. MSDHS conducted a training for its shelter staff on services for LGBTQI+ victims. MSDHS did not equip its shelters to provide adequate accommodations for victims with disabilities and often lacked sufficient numbers of interpreters, especially for Rohingya victims, which weakened their ability to provide adequate services to victims. NGOs reported interpreters who participated in victim identification interviews and in court proceedings were not always trained to assist in trafficking cases and inappropriately communicated with victims, sometimes by attempting to convince victims to not report their exploitation or recommending they confess to crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. MSDHS collaborated with an NGO to provide training for shelter staff on protection issues, provide MDT officials training on trauma-informed care during the identification process, and develop an online training course for officials providing psychological care to victims.

Authorities facilitated the return of 245 Thais exploited in trafficking abroad, including 13 sex trafficking victims and 232 labor trafficking victims; the government reported all 245 victims chose not to utilize shelter services and returned to their hometowns, and MSDHS monitored their reintegration to prevent re-victimization. In 2021, the government provided 4.13 million baht ($123,650) to trafficking victims from its anti-trafficking fund (compared with 7.63 million baht ($228,440) in 2020), including 1.12 million baht ($33,530) that went to victims residing outside government shelters for living expenses, payments for work inside shelters, education, medical care, and other expenses. NGOs reported the process for victims to access this fund was complex, which likely prevented some victims from obtaining necessary monetary support. 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 restitution claims in 25 cases in 2021 and reported courts ordered 10.7 million baht ($320,360) in restitution for victims, a decrease compared with 26 million baht ($778,440) in 2020. MSDHS provided legal assistance to victims to file compensation claims and ensure enforcement of orders; however only two cases resulted in the successful execution of restitution orders. 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 traffickers; however, the government did not report extending this benefit to any victims during the reporting period.

MSDHS operated 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; 46 potential trafficking cases were reported through this application in 2021, compared with 32 in 2020. MSDHS and MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 19 foreign languages. In 2021, the MSDHS trafficking hotline received calls related to 64 possible trafficking cases, which were referred to relevant agencies for investigation, including 12 involving forced labor and 31 involving commercial sex (70 cases 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 likely feared risks of arrest and deportation, from reporting their exploitation to authorities. Observers reported that some employers retaliated against migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims 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, sometimes through strategic lawsuits against public participation, which resulted in advocates facing years of legal harassment. Observers continued to report these types of cases deterred advocates and victims from reporting exploitation. In one case involving Thai sex trafficking victims exploited overseas, the government secured bail and provided legal representation to the victims after the alleged offenders filed criminal defamation charges against the victims. 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 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 or victims.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. A Deputy Prime Minister directed the National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee and the Coordinating and Monitoring of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Performance Committee, which met multiple times during the year. The government continued to monitor its progress to combat trafficking through data collection and annual reports to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. In 2021, the government allocated approximately 4.46 billion baht ($133.53 million) towards its prevention and suppression of trafficking budget, compared with approximately 4.02 billion ($120.36 million) in 2020. Government agencies conducted numerous anti-trafficking awareness and prevention campaigns, including through awareness trainings aimed to prevent child sex trafficking and online child sexual exploitation, and the production of a video raising awareness of trafficking among the general public. Civil society expressed concern that provisions of a draft law seeking to increase regulations on NGOs in Thailand would, if enacted, negatively impact NGO’s ability to conduct anti-trafficking work in Thailand.

Thai law permitted recruitment agencies to charge 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. In fiscal year 2021, the government conducted 243 inspections of employment agencies that recruited Thai workers for overseas employment but did not find any unlawful practices. The Department of Employment charged 123 individuals for recruiting workers without a license and labor fraud. MOL and RTP collaborated to investigate unauthorized online advertisements for jobs for Thai workers overseas that involved trafficking, fraudulent employment, smuggling, and commercial sex.

The government maintained bilateral memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with neighboring countries to recruit migrant workers to Thailand. Recruitment under these MOUs was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic and resumed on December 1, 2021. The complicated nature of the government’s migrant worker registration programs often resulted in workers’ reliance on brokers and employers, who charged fees to workers in addition to fees charged by the government, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt-based coercion. The government implemented programs to enable workers to stay in the country after their initial registration expired and to provide work permits to unregistered workers already in the country. The 2018 Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers required employers to provide workers a copy of their employment contracts and to cover some costs, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs, and it prohibited employers from deducting more than 10 percent of workers’ monthly salaries for personal expenses and from retaining travel or other personal documents; the law prescribed penalties of fines ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 baht ($300-$2,990) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers who violated these rules. 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. The Ordinance 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 unscrupulous employers retained 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. Although government regulations permitted exploited migrant workers to change employers, some policies restricted their ability to do so in practice. Labor laws prevented migrant workers from forming labor unions, which according to civil society organizations further contributed to exploitation. The government inspected 227 migrant worker recruitment agencies but did not find any violations.

A lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels heightened their risk of trafficking. The Ministerial Regulations on the Protection of Labour in the Marine Fisheries, which came into force during the reporting period, required that employers provide migrant fishermen a contract in a language they can understand, maintain a record of payments to workers, and provide sufficient meals and drinking water to fishermen on vessels. Regulations also required employers to pay workers’ salaries at least once per month through electronic deposits and to share catch profits. However, there remained concerns that some workers were still paid in cash or were unable to access their funds due to a lack of ATMs near some ports, were not sufficiently trained on how to use the system, and had their ATM cards and PINs withheld by vessel owners, captains, or brokers. In August 2021, provincial authorities in Phuket issued an order to quarantine fishermen on their vessels, which increased their risk to exploitation, including longer work hours and inability to leave exploitative conditions.

The government previously reported operating 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; however, it was unclear to what extent these centers operated during the reporting period. 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. In November 2021, MOL established the Anti-Labour Trafficking Ad Hoc Working Group, which inspected employers and workplaces with high risks of trafficking; the group investigated reports from NGOs, including reports of trafficking on fishing vessels, and inspected seven workplaces, which resulted in the prosecution of one trafficking case. The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare conducted inspections at high-risk workplaces and seafood processing facilities and found 4,278 violation of labor laws. MOL’s Command Center for Labor Trafficking Prevention inspected 56,186 employers and workplaces for unregistered migrant workers and identified 1,154 employers in violation of labor laws; MOL referred 973 of these cases for further investigation and fined employers a total of 1.39 million baht ($41,620) for employing unregistered migrant workers. The government operated inspection centers at ports to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally and reported identifying 17 vessels in violation of the law, including for failure to pay workers’ wages through bank transfers, failure to provide workers a copy of their contracts, and other labor violations. At-port inspection centers 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 from which they went missing, and the number of crewmembers who went missing at sea continued to increase compared to recent years. The government also conducted at-sea inspections of 671 vessels but did not identify any violations. At-sea inspections did not include sufficient checks for labor violations or consistently have interpreters available for interviewing foreign crewmembers. The government has never reported identifying trafficking victims as a result of labor inspections of fishing vessels. Despite using a manual on standardized inspection practices introduced in 2019, at-port labor inspections continued to be inconsistent and ineffective at identifying potential cases of forced labor on fishing vessels often due to a lack of victim-centered interview practices. Observers indicated some vessel owners and other workplaces received advance warning of labor inspections; observers also noted an absence of interpreters available to assist workers during inspections and employers, including vessel captains, were present during inspections, which likely deterred workers from reporting their exploitation to authorities. A lack of access to remote workplaces prevented sufficient child labor inspections in some informal sectors. In December 2021, allegations emerged that inmates producing fishing nets under a prison work program faced exploitative conditions, including indicators of forced labor. In response, the Department of Corrections issued orders to 143 prisons to cease the production of fishing nets, and the Department committed to establishing advisors within each prison to ensure labor conditions in prisons meet international standards. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by displaying a video in four languages in Thai airports and on Thai airline flights discouraging child sex tourism. In addition, the government coordinated with foreign governments to deny entry to known sex offenders.

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. 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. The government and NGOs reported a continued increase in online sexual exploitation, especially of children, during the pandemic. 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 the 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 brokers or parents 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 are 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. More than 100,000 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 increasingly subjected Thai workers to forced labor in Cambodia and Laos, including in special economic zones, for operators of online gambling and scamming websites.

Traffickers and smugglers operating between Burma and Thailand charge Burmese migrants approximately 10,000 to 70,000 baht ($300 to $2,100) to smuggle them into Thailand. Observers reported these smuggling networks are supported by complicit police, military, and other local authorities. 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 face 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, 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. Vessel owners confiscate the identify documents of fishermen without their consent. Some trafficking victims in the fishing sector have 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 make 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. Throughout the pandemic, police reportedly increasingly arrested undocumented migrant workers and required them to pay bribes for their release. Credible reports indicate some corrupt officials protect brothels, other commercial sex venues, factory owners, and fishing vessel owners from raids, inspections, and prosecutions, and they 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