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The Government of Singapore fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Singapore remained on Tier 1. These efforts included initiating more sex and labor trafficking investigations and convicting more traffickers. The government also identified more trafficking victims, including more labor trafficking victims, and provided services to more identified victims. The government implemented policies to protect foreign domestic workers against abuse and reintroduced and implemented a policy to protect migrant workers against exploitation. Although the government meets the minimum standards, the government did not initiate any prosecutions under the trafficking law for the third consecutive year. Despite the reports of trafficking indicators among the foreign domestic worker population, the government did not prosecute any cases of domestic servitude under the trafficking law. The government provided less funding for victim services. The government did not take steps to eliminate recruitment and placement fees charged to workers by Singaporean labor recruiters or ensure any recruitment fees were paid by employers.

  • Using the 2014 anti-trafficking law, investigate and prosecute traffickers, including labor traffickers exploiting domestic workers, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Train law enforcement on trafficking indicators, including screening for debt manipulation and psychological coercion, with increased attention to individuals in commercial sex and individuals in debt; further train that screening cannot always occur the same day as victim identification.
  • Increase resources for investigative and prosecutorial training on trafficking for Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officials who handle labor inspections.
  • Increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex and People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals employed at PRC-affiliated company worksites.
  • Work with employers and NGOs to increase migrant workers’ access to helplines and reporting channels, including access to mobile phones.
  • Improve cooperation and dialogue with NGOs on victim assistance before, during, and after criminal investigations of traffickers.
  • Continue to implement reforms to the work permit sponsorship system so it does not provide excessive power to sponsors or employers in granting and maintaining the legal status of migrant workers.
  • Eliminate all recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by labor recruiters and ensure any fees are paid by employers.
  • Train judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials on the application of anti-trafficking laws, elements of trafficking, investigative techniques, and evidence collection specific to trafficking cases.
  • Strengthen the legal framework to ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Publicize and expand the government’s formal policies to provide all victims – including trafficking victims with cases filed under the Penal Code, Women’s Charter, and other non-trafficking laws – the right to robust services, and refer all identified victims, including PRC national overseas workers, to protection services.

The government slightly increased law enforcement efforts. The 2014 Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA) criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines up to 100,000 Singapore dollars (SGD) ($74,630), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In addition, Article 140 of the Women’s Charter criminalized “forced prostitution” involving detention or physical force, and Article 141 criminalized the movement of women and girls for “trafficking” but did not define this term. Penalties prescribed for these offenses included a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 SGD ($74,630). The government investigated most suspected labor trafficking cases as labor law offenses under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), or the Employment Act, which carried lower penalties than the anti-trafficking law.

In 2022, authorities initiated 25 trafficking investigations, 20 for sex trafficking and five for labor trafficking, compared with initiating 11 sex trafficking investigations in 2021. The MOM and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) determined none of the suspected cases violated the PHTA and proceeded with charges under either the Women’s Charter or the Penal Code, dismissed cases, or issued warnings. For the third consecutive year, authorities did not prosecute any traffickers under the PHTA, but initiated prosecutions of four sex traffickers under other laws. The government continued one labor trafficking prosecution under the PHTA and five sex trafficking prosecutions under other laws initiated in prior years. Courts convicted one labor trafficker under the PHTA and seven traffickers under the Penal Code, compared with one trafficker convicted under the PHTA and one under the Penal Code in 2021. Courts sentenced the convicted labor trafficker under the PHTA to 41 months’ imprisonment and ordered the trafficker to pay 2,722 SGD ($2,030) in restitution and a fine of 27,365 SGD ($20,420). Sentences for the seven other traffickers ranged from six weeks’ to 31 years’ imprisonment under the Penal Code, but only three of the seven served at least one year imprisonment. Authorities investigated and prosecuted suspected trafficking crimes under non-trafficking statutes because of difficulties proving elements of trafficking required by the PHTA beyond a reasonable doubt.

Despite reports of trafficking indicators in cases involving domestic worker abuse, the government had yet to prosecute or convict any cases of domestic servitude under the PHTA; courts convicted and imprisoned several employers of foreign domestic workers under non-trafficking laws for cases involving abuse and physical and/or sexual assault. Prosecutors commonly pursued charges or accepted pleas of “voluntarily causing hurt” for cases of domestic worker abuse that had indicators of trafficking; the maximum penalty for this charge is two years’ imprisonment, substantially lower than the maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment possible under the PHTA. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. However, an NGO reported the government arrested a national serviceman for threatening to report two individuals in commercial sex if they refused to engage in commercial sex acts with him.

The SPF and the MOM led the government’s investigative efforts and the Attorney General’s Chambers led the government’s prosecutorial efforts. The government trained SPF, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), and MOM officials on victim identification, legislation enforcement, and trafficking indicators. Authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on ongoing international trafficking cases; the SPF seized six Singaporean bank accounts in connection with an international human trafficking case.

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts. The government identified 29 potential trafficking victims (16 sex trafficking victims and 13 labor trafficking victims), compared with identifying 26 potential victims (all sex trafficking victims) in 2021. Authorities identified most victims through reports to law enforcement, including victim self-identification via the general police hotline, a web-based reporting form, police reports, and direct interactions with front-line officers. SPF, MOM, and ICA officials had victim identification and referral SOPs, and other government officials, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies could refer potential victims to the MOM and the SPF. Several NGOs reported concerns government officials may have failed to recognize key indicators of trafficking when interviewing potential victims, particularly in cases involving psychological coercion or debt bondage and among migrant workers. Two NGOs reported authorities lacked an understanding of trafficking indicators, which hampered investigations and victim identification. NGOs voiced concern that police inadequately screened for trafficking indicators – including passport retention, forced confinement, and non-payment of wages – during law enforcement actions on unlicensed commercial sex establishments. One NGO reported law enforcement did not use trauma-informed practices in victim identification and law enforcement actions on commercial sex establishments, including the use of sledgehammers to break down doors, placement of bags over women’s heads, and interviews with potential victims conducted in the same room as the facilitator or head of the commercial sex operation. Observers reported government officials lacked an understanding of trafficking and conflated human trafficking and migrant smuggling; in one case, an international organization reported authorities did not identify a foreign girl, with clear indicators of trafficking, as a sex trafficking victim because she willingly traveled to Singapore. Another observer reported the government‘s lack of trafficking awareness and inadequate screening led victims to pursue support from NGOs instead of the government; some NGOs reported refraining from referring cases to the government because of victims’ concerns resulting from negative past experiences and victim preference to not pursue criminal charges and avoid lengthy court proceedings. The government referred cases with labor trafficking indicators, including passport retention and non-payment of wages, to mediation or issued administrative penalties and warnings. Authorities and employers may have facilitated the deportation of unidentified trafficking victims.

The government reported offering assistance, including shelter, temporary employment, interpretation support, and access to a victim protection officer, to all 29 potential trafficking victims, with 24 victims using at least one of the services; the government did not report how many victims used services in the previous reporting period. The government continued to provide temporary employment assistance to three labor trafficking victims identified in a previous year and one potential victim identified in 2023. Potential trafficking victims could receive assistance before authorities established an investigation as a trafficking case. The government, in partnership with NGOs, could provide food, temporary shelter, counseling, and other protective services to trafficking victims, as outlined in section 19 of the PHTA. These services were not contingent on a victim’s assistance in the investigation, but the Director-General of Social Welfare assessed whether victims required the services on a case-by-case basis. The government spent approximately 25,760 SGD ($19,220) to provide care and support services for four trafficking victims, compared with 66,000 SGD ($49,250) for seven victims in 2021. The government funded four shelters with a total capacity of 250 for women victims of crime, including trafficking, and their children; and the MOM funded two additional shelters for victims of forced labor and labor exploitation, one of which was specifically designated for use by men. The government also provided partial funding and oversight to 21 homes serving vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims. Authorities permitted freedom of movement outside the shelter for most residents of these facilities.

The government, in partnership with NGOs, could provide additional support measures, customized to victims’ needs, including interpreters, medical services, skill development, temporary work permits, legal support, and resettlement assistance. The government maintained a formal policy to provide services to trafficking victims with cases under the PHTA; trafficking victims with cases under non-trafficking laws were not covered by this policy and provided services on a case-by-case basis. The government required women officers conduct forensic interviews for women potential trafficking victims, with a doctor present if required. Some NGOs noted interpreters in victim interviews did not receive training to work with trafficking victims and were usually from the victims’ home country, which put additional pressure on the victims; the government reported interpreters from a victim’s home country would be better equipped to understand and interpret with regard to the victim’s cultural context. An NGO continued to support 10 foreign trafficking victims referred by the government in prior years. The government reported three victims continued to utilize short-term work permits, available for the duration of the investigation and prosecution of the alleged trafficker; this compared with four victims using short-term work permits in the previous year.

NGOs offered trafficking victims pro bono legal assistance to pursue compensation in civil court; however, an NGO noted many migrant workers were unaware of this option. Courts ordered one convicted trafficker to pay restitution to three victims. During the previous year, courts sentenced a Singaporean employer who did not pay her domestic worker for 13 months to a fine; the prosecution did not seek restitution for the unpaid worker because the worker faced charges for working for another employer without a valid work pass. The government issued special immigration passes that allowed foreign victims to remain and work in the country for the duration of investigations and legal proceedings. A government policy also allowed foreign victims to receive a new work permit after proceedings concluded, but the government did not report any victims applying for or receiving one during the reporting period. NGOs reportedly worked with the MOM to secure permission for migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims, to work during investigations of spurious allegations filed by employers, such as theft; the government did not report providing any work permissions in these cases. During the reporting period, a domestic worker with indicators of trafficking reported her employer’s repeated physical abuse to police, and the employer later pled guilty to various charges; the government did not act to release the worker from paying an agent fee equivalent to two months’ salary to secure a new employment contract. The government could provide protective services for victims who participated in prosecutions, including in-camera court proceedings for child victims, protection of the victim’s identity, pre-recorded statements from victims, and media gag orders for all sex trafficking cases.

The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The interagency task force, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the MOM, coordinated anti-trafficking efforts through its “National Approach against Trafficking in Persons, 2016-2026.” The task force reportedly met regularly with NGOs on anti-trafficking efforts, compared with formally meeting once the previous year. The government provided 80,000 SGD ($59,700), the same as in the previous year, in grants to civil society for anti-trafficking awareness-raising campaigns. The government conducted awareness campaigns targeting migrant workers and the public. The government completed research on psychological coercion and produced a working definition for use in trafficking cases; the government initiated the development of a training on psychological coercion in trafficking investigations and victim identification but did not implement it during the reporting period.

Singapore’s Employment Agencies Act (EAA) mandated licensing and regulation of recruitment agents; the law allowed worker-paid recruitment fees. The EAA capped the maximum recruitment fee a worker may pay an agent at one month’s salary for each year of a valid work permit or the period of the employment contract, whichever was shorter, and to an overall maximum of two months’ salary. The majority of migrant workers in Singapore paid fees to agents in Singapore as well as to recruitment agents in their home country, which contributed to the workers’ vulnerability to debt bondage. The MOM prosecuted 18 recruitment agencies for operating without a license or overcharging agency fees and issued warning letters or fines to another 22 recruitment agencies, compared with the prosecution of 12 unlicensed recruitment agencies and warning letters sent to 44 agencies in 2021. The MOM resolved most employment disputes through “mediation” via the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), which was an administrative adjudication process. The TADM reported adjudicating approximately 160 salary-related claims per month in 2022, none of which the TADM or the MOM referred to police for criminal investigation. In one case, nine migrant construction workers blocked the entrance of a building by holding up signs claiming they had not received wages for three months. The MOM’s subsequent investigation uncovered 268 migrant construction workers from two companies had reportedly not received their wages. One company paid its five workers; the other company initiated payment of the wages over time after intervention from the MOM. The MOM did not report referring either company to police for criminal investigation, but the MOM initiated investigations under the Employment Act for both companies. Police investigated the nine workers for taking part in a public assembly without a permit; a member of parliament called for actions to be taken against companies that do not pay their workers and against migrant workers who publicly protest.

The MOM managed the work permit process for foreign workers. Singaporean employers applied to the MOM to sponsor skilled and semi-skilled workers whose employment and legal immigration status was tied to that specific employer. However, government policy allowed workers to change their employment without their previous employer’s consent only when workers had employment-related claims, such as salary delays, that the MOM deemed valid and during a pre-defined timeframe before expiry of their work permit. In the past, some observers noted this policy made migrant workers vulnerable to labor trafficking. NGOs stated the restriction on job mobility, coupled with the ability of employers to terminate a worker’s employment at any time without the need to show cause, created a structure that prevented some foreign migrant workers from resisting and contesting exploitation. In July 2022, the government altered its policy allowing foreign workers in the manufacturing, services, construction, marine shipyard, and processing industries to transfer to a new employer; the new policy allowed transfer 21 to 40 days before the work permit expired and allowed workers to find a new employer without consent from their current employer. The government also ended a job matching retention system that had placed limitations on the worker’s freedom to look for an employer on their own. NGOs welcomed the extended time window and the ending of the job matching retention system but criticized the policy because the previous employer still had the right to renew or terminate the worker’s work permit, limiting the employee’s ability to find new employment; NGOs encountered cases of early work permit cancellation. An NGO reported some employers charged foreign domestic workers a second recruitment fee of up to two months’ salary after they changed employer. The government required employment agencies to refund half of the recruitment fee if employment was terminated within six months. In 2022, more than 323,000 foreign workers resided primarily in private dormitories. NGOs reported cases of dormitory operators’ improper use of a policy allowing the restriction of movement for workers who were ill or injured, confining otherwise healthy workers.

Singapore law did not prescribe a minimum wage. The Employment Act required employers to negotiate wages and include them in individual contracts of service, but the Act did not apply to foreign domestic workers; foreign domestic workers were instead covered under the EFMA, which lacked clear definitions of appropriate working conditions and limits on overtime, working hours, and sick days. The ambiguity in the law created vulnerabilities employers could exploit. The EFMA required employers to provide a document containing employment terms such as monthly salary, number of rest days, and agency fees. The government implemented policies, initiated in the previous year, to detect signs of abuse of foreign domestic workers, including more comprehensive health checks without the employer present, increased random house checks, and two interviews, instead of one, during the first year of employment. In prior years, the High Court stipulated in criminal cases of abuse of foreign domestic workers, courts should consider compensation for pain and suffering as well as restitution for wages. The MOM continued to implement a policy requiring employers to notify the MOM if they reduced a migrant worker’s salary from what was stated on the application for the employee’s work permit and after the employer and employee had agreed to the change in writing. An NGO noted this policy did not address the unequal power dynamic between employer and employee, given the vulnerability of those who paid recruitment costs to be coerced to sign a new salary agreement through the threat of termination and repatriation and those who may not understand the changes agreed upon; the NGO further noted the government did not acknowledge some employers may forge an updated work approval. The government convicted 24 employers for making false declarations of higher salaries to obtain employee work passes, compared with convicting 21 the previous year. The MOM allowed employers or recruitment agents to open a fee-free bank account on behalf of the employee as part of the recruitment process so the worker’s salary could be electronically paid; the government required employers of migrant workers living in dormitories to open bank accounts for their workers and pay them electronically. Despite these efforts, NGOs reported employers still paid some of the workers in cash, did not provide workers with their full base salaries, or illegally deducted expenses from workers’ pay. The MOM prohibited employers of foreign domestic workers from retaining any wages or money belonging to the domestic worker; however, NGOs reported employers still did so.

The government mandated foreign migrant workers in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, and processing industries arrive at the MOM’s onboarding centers and complete the one-day Settling-in-Program (SIP), delivered by an NGO in seven languages. One of the five modules covered employment rights and information on how to receive assistance and included one section on trafficking. Observers reported concern over language barriers among staff and workers may have prevented workers from learning critical information; an NGO reported many migrant workers remained unaware of their rights or how to seek assistance after completing the SIP. In addition to worker programs, an employer program was mandatory for first-time employers of foreign domestic workers to review their responsibilities; an NGO reported some employers likely forgot many of the rules and regulations because they only had to complete the program once and could complete the program online. The government continued to air a pre-departure video at overseas testing centers for construction workers to explain foreign workers’ employment rights. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts but made efforts to counter child sex tourism by coordinating with a foreign government to deny entry to known child sex offenders. The MOM publicized its phone number and a mobile phone application, as well as three NGO-operated 24-hour hotlines, for migrant workers who experience trafficking indicators; authorities identified three victims from calls to the hotline.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Singapore, and traffickers exploit victims from Singapore abroad. Some of the more than one million foreign work permit holders who comprise almost one-third of Singapore’s labor force are at risk of trafficking. Most victims migrate willingly for work in construction, domestic service, performing arts, manufacturing, the service industry, or commercial sex but may later face exploitation in these sectors. To migrate, many workers assume large debts to country of origin recruitment and Singaporean agents, placing them at risk for debt bondage. Traffickers exploit foreign workers in sex trafficking or forced labor through threats of forced repatriation without pay, restrictions on movement, physical and sexual abuse, and withholding wages and travel documents, such as passports. Some foreign women employed as domestic workers are at a high risk for trafficking. Women migrant workers, particularly in domestic service, have reported rape, torture, and repeated beatings by Singaporean employers. A 2022 study that surveyed more than 1,800 domestic workers in Singapore reported prevalent emotional abuse by employers and an increase in installing CCTV cameras in their homes to surveil the workers. Some recruitment agencies illegally engage in contract switching and charge workers higher fees than the legal limit. Foreign workers have credible fears of losing their work visas and being deported because employers repatriate workers legally at any time during their contracts with minimal notice. PRC nationals employed in Singapore at PRC-affiliated company worksites are vulnerable to forced labor. Foreign women who arrive in Singapore to work in the entertainment sector, including nightclubs and bars, are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Foreign women sometimes arrive in Singapore with the intention of engaging in Singapore’s regulated commercial sex sector, but traffickers use the threat of serious harm or other forms of coercion to exploit the women in sex trafficking. Foreign workers from countries with a small presence in Singapore can experience language barriers that increase their isolation. Traffickers may exploit Asian men in labor trafficking on fishing vessels that could transit or dock at Singaporean ports. A small number of Singapore residents facilitate and engage in child sex tourism abroad. Traffickers may exploit Singapore victims in forced labor in cyber scam operations in Southeast Asia.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future