KOREA, REPUBLIC OF (Tier 2)

The Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the ROK remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included creating victim identification guidelines, collecting statistics on trafficking victims identified by support centers, increasing the number of convicted traffickers sentenced to more than one year in prison, and creating a national trafficking-specific hotline.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Due to inadequate screening procedures some victims may not have been identified or provided with services, and authorities may have penalized some victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  The government did not report identifying any forced labor victims despite reports of the prevalence of labor trafficking among migrant workers in the ROK.  Officials continued to conflate trafficking with other crimes and courts sentenced most criminals convicted for trafficking-related crimes to less than a year imprisonment, fines, or suspended sentences.

  • Ensure police, immigration, labor, and other officials consistently screen for trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex, fishermen, and migrant workers, utilizing the new victim identification indexes.  
  • Amend the definition of trafficking under the Crimes Act to be consistent with the definition of trafficking under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and the newly enacted Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, Etc. and Victim Protection Act.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, particularly labor traffickers, including those who use forced labor on ROK-flagged fishing vessels.
  • Seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should include significant prison terms.
  • Cease the inappropriate penalization of victims solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked and improve coordination between police and immigration authorities in cases involving foreign victims.
  • Take steps to increase and enforce protections for migrant fishermen, including by enforcing prohibitions against document confiscation through a more consistent system for inspecting the labor conditions of distant water fishing vessels.
  • Provide trauma-informed training to law enforcement to ensure they use victim-centered approaches in investigations and victim protection.
  • Implement the new guidelines for police, immigration, labor, and social welfare officials to refer both sex and labor trafficking victims to support services.
  • Take steps to ensure relevant agencies accurately track the number of victims identified through screening efforts, including through use of the victim identification indexes.
  • Increase efforts to train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judicial officials, and social service providers to better understand trafficking as defined by international law.
  • Improve the quality of specialized services provided to trafficking victims, especially male, child, foreign, and disabled victims.
  • Increase cooperation with civil society organizations on efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims.
  • Take steps to eliminate recruitment and/or placement fees charged to workers by labor recruiters in the ROK and workers’ home countries and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers.

The government maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  Various articles under Chapter 31 of the Criminal Act, when read together, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for trafficking crimes, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, Article 289 (“trafficking in persons”) limited the definition of trafficking to require the buying or selling of another for exploitation and did not include a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime.  However, Articles 288 (“kidnapping, abduction, etc. for the purpose of indecent acts, etc.”) and 292 (“receiving, harboring, etc. of person kidnapped, abducted, trafficked or transported”) could apply to trafficking crimes not covered under Article 289.  Similarly, Article 12 of the Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles Against Sexual Abuse incorrectly defined child sex trafficking to require transnational movement of the victim.  However, various other articles under the law could be applied to child sex trafficking offenses that did not involve such movement.  During the reporting period, some trafficking crimes were prosecuted under other laws, including Article 7 of the Labor Standards Act, which criminalized forced labor offenses and prescribed penalties of up to five years‘ imprisonment or a fine; Article 19 of the Employment Security Act, which criminalized the use of exploitative recruitment fees and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine ; and Article 17 of the Child Welfare Act, which criminalized certain forms of child sexual exploitation and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine.  The absence of a criminal offense that defined trafficking in a manner fully consistent with international law resulted in varying understanding of the crime among law enforcement and prosecutors and may have led officials to conflate trafficking with related crimes such as commercial sex, kidnapping, domestic violence, and other forms of sexual abuse.  In January 2023, the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, Etc. and Victim Protection Act came into effect, which included a definition of trafficking in persons that aligned more closely with the international definition of trafficking in relation to the government’s protection and prevention efforts; however, the law did not amend the definition of trafficking within Chapter 31 of the Crimes Act.  Numerous NGOs and anti-trafficking experts were skeptical the new law and its implementation would result in increased trafficking prosecutions and convictions, as it did not change the existing criminal provisions predominantly used to prosecute trafficking crimes.

While the government maintained general statistics on victims and offenders across all subsections of the criminal code, it did not adequately distinguish trafficking cases from related crimes such as sexual assault, statutory rape, and commercial sex.  This made it difficult to determine which law enforcement actions reported by the government involved human trafficking as defined by international law.  The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) reported investigating 429 cases, and the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) reported investigating 80 forced labor cases.  The government initiated prosecutions of 402 suspects (553 in 2021), including 274 prosecutions of traffickers who purchased commercial sex acts from children (258 in 2021).  The government reported convicting 184 defendants under the Employment Security Act, compared with one in 2021; some of which may have included labor trafficking cases.  In addition, the government reported prosecuting 161 defendants and convicting 149 defendants under the Child Welfare Act, some of which included child sex trafficking cases; this was the first year the government provided this information.  Courts convicted 424 offenders (426 in 2021) for crimes related to trafficking, including 267 convictions of traffickers who purchased commercial sex acts from children (212 in 2021) and two labor trafficking convictions under Article 7 of the Labor Standards Act (none in 2021).  Some of the prosecutions and convictions may not have been trafficking crimes according to international standards.  Courts reported sentencing 170 traffickers to at least one year imprisonment, compared with 156 in 2021.  Even so, courts sentenced a significant majority of those convicted for trafficking crimes to less than one year imprisonment, suspended terms of imprisonment, or fines.  This likely created security and safety concerns, particularly for victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions.  Reports indicated officials treated some potential labor trafficking cases as administrative labor violations.

The KNPA cooperated with law enforcement in Thailand and Kazakhstan on trafficking cases, and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) made mutual legal assistance requests to foreign authorities in 79 trafficking related cases.  KNPA trained police officers on the Human Trafficking Prevention Act in September 2022.  MOJ trained prosecutors, probation officers, immigration officials, and other officials on investigating trafficking.  The Korean Coast Guard (KCG) reported it provided human trafficking-related training to investigators before conducting biannual “crackdowns” on human rights abuses in the maritime industry.  In January 2023, the government held an expert seminar at the Police Human Resources Development Institute to discuss implementation of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, including the police force’s role in protecting victims.  Also in January 2023, the Korean National Police University established an education plan to provide online training on implementation of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act to all police personnel.

Officials sometimes did not prosecute cases involving debt-based coercion of foreign victims due to a perceived lack of jurisdiction over recruitment that generally originated in a victim’s home country.  Addressing concerns that local police accepted bribes from commercial sex operations that may have facilitated sex trafficking, the KNPA reported it prohibited local police stations from conducting law enforcement operations at establishments within their own jurisdictions suspected of facilitating commercial sex.  In 2022, the government reported investigating two local police officers for alleged complicity in separate trafficking-related crimes.  In June 2022, authorities reported initiating prosecution against one of the officers; the investigation into the other officer remained ongoing at the end of 2022.

The government maintained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims; while the government began data collection and developed two victim identification indexes, the government did not identify any labor trafficking victims or report data for the first nine months of the reporting period.  In January 2023, the government, as a result of the newly enforced anti-trafficking law, began collecting statistics on trafficking victims identified at 61 crime victim support centers and reported assisting 12 trafficking victims (two men and 10 women) with financial support and counselling services in the first three months of 2023.  However, officials did not report data for the rest of the reporting period, thereby making some aspects of the government’s overall protection efforts unclear.    Law enforcement referred eight individuals identified during law enforcement actions on commercial sex establishments to support facilities operated or funded by the Ministry of Gender, Equality, and Family (MOGEF).  MOGEF provided services to 5,277 victims across its 96 support facilities, compared with 6,311 individuals in 2021; the government did not report identifying any as sex trafficking victims.  In addition, MOGEF provided counseling, medical, legal, and other forms of assistance to 862 victims at 17 support centers for child sex trafficking victims, compared with 3,964 victims assisted at these centers in 2021.  MOEL did not identify any labor trafficking victims, compared with identifying 10 labor trafficking victims in 2021.  The KCG conducted labor inspections on maritime employees twice.  The government identified one case in which traffickers exploited multiple ROK nationals in the fishing industry.  Despite NGO concerns that traffickers exploited migrant workers in forced labor in various industries, the government did not identify any migrant workers exploited in labor trafficking and it did not report any migrant fishermen exploited in labor trafficking.

In March 2023, as a result of the newly enforced anti-trafficking law, MOGEF developed and presented two victim identification indexes to the Policy Coordination Council.  One was designed for rapid use by front-line officers and the other contained more detailed identification standards for use by other officials.  MOGEF sought input from civil society organizations during the development of these indexes.  In March 2023, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries began an investigation into the labor conditions of coastal seafarers utilizing the new identification index in conjunction with NGOs, but it did not report identifying any victims through this effort by the end of the reporting period.  The government reported that KCG, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF), MOGEF, and all immigration officials used the indexes in practice before the end of the reporting period.  Prior to the creation of these indexes, the government distributed victim identification guidelines created by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to police, prosecutors, and coast guard officials.  KNPA also reported using previously existing guidelines during 74 investigations and referring victims to services in eight cases as a result.  MOJ reported using previously existing guidelines during 258 investigations and granted one identified trafficking victim humanitarian stay status.  MOJ immigration officials also screened entertainment visa holders for sex trafficking through an interview process and referred identified victims to services.  Immigration officials reported using the new Victim Identification Index to screen for indicators of human trafficking when entertainment visa holders applied for visa extensions.  The government did not report how many victims it identified through these efforts.  NGOs reported that law enforcement often did not take steps to proactively identify victims and failed to identify many victims, and many officials did not adequately implement the previously existing identification procedures.

Law enforcement officials were responsible for guiding all crime victims, which could include trafficking victims, from the initial point of contact with law enforcement to protection and support systems.  While the new trafficking law enforced in January 2023 and the Comprehensive Plan for Prevention of Human Trafficking, adopted in March 2023, provided guidelines on victim referral procedures, the government did not have a formal referral process throughout the reporting period to guide officials in referring trafficking victims to services.  Some authorities reportedly only referred victims to services in extreme cases, and some victims did not receive timely support.  Although the government took some steps to seek input from civil society organizations on anti-trafficking policies, it did not adequately collaborate with these organizations to identify and protect victims.

MOGEF supported more than 100 facilities that provided services to victims of crime and were available to assist trafficking victims including counseling services, psycho-social support, shelter, education, and recovery support.  The government reported that it could provide customized counseling services to trafficking victims who called the dedicated trafficking hotline.  MOEL also operated counseling centers for foreign workers who were victims of sexual and labor exploitation, which could include trafficking victims.  While the MOGEF facilities primarily served female victims of crime, the government made some services, such as counseling, medical, and legal assistance, available to male victims.  NGOs reported the quality of victim care was insufficient, particularly for male, disabled, foreign, and child victims.

The government did not provide undocumented foreign victims some services unless they cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation of traffickers.  The government issued G-1 visas to foreign victims of crimes, which allowed victims to stay and work in the ROK for up to one year as long as they were cooperating in investigations and prosecutions.  In late 2022, the National Assembly amended the Immigration Act to allow foreign trafficking victims to extend their stay permits for the duration of criminal or civil proceedings.  The government reported 26 potential foreign trafficking victims remained in the ROK on a G-1 visa at the end of the reporting period.  The government only permitted foreign victims to stay in shelters for three months; however, authorities could extend this period of stay if victims were participating as witnesses in ongoing trials.  The lack of an option to provide foreign trafficking victims with long-term or permanent residency may have discouraged victims from participating as witnesses in investigations of traffickers.  MOJ reported foreign victims of sexual violence and trafficking were exempt from immigration penalties for remaining in the country beyond the permitted period of stay; it reported 13 victims benefited from this provision during the reporting period.

Victims could file civil suits to receive compensation; courts granted compensation to 100 victims in a sex trafficking case initiated in a prior reporting period.  In addition, courts granted one victim 130 million Korean won ($103,780) in compensation in a civil lawsuit related to a sex trafficking case.  As of January 2023, prosecutors could designate court-appointed lawyers to assist trafficking victims during criminal proceedings against traffickers, and reported assisting in one case.  The government reported providing financial support from victim support centers to four trafficking victims.  The government did not report whether any victims received restitution.

Although the law prohibited punishment for illegal acts that individuals were coerced to commit, government officials sometimes arrested and temporarily detained victims for commercial sex crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  While the government required law enforcement authorities to use a human trafficking index to screen individuals when arresting them for commercial sex acts, authorities did not consistently conduct screenings for indicators of trafficking when arresting individuals.  NGOs reported some instances in which authorities sought deportation of potential foreign trafficking victims without screening them for trafficking or providing services.  In addition, NGOs previously reported authorities deported some foreign sex trafficking victim witnesses who participated in prosecutions against traffickers.  KNPA reportedly had a policy not to inform immigration officials of the irregular migration status of foreign victims who self-reported their exploitation to authorities; however, KNPA did not extend this policy to victims who did not self-identify or were not accompanied by legal counsel or other service providers.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking.  In March 2023, as a result of the newly enforced anti-trafficking law, the deputy prime minister and education minister led the first meeting of the Policy Coordination Council on Human Trafficking (the Council), which aimed to prioritize and facilitate cooperation among 11 relevant government agencies.  At the meeting, the Council, in accordance with the new anti-trafficking law, adopted the first Comprehensive Plan for Prevention of Human Trafficking (2023-2027) which set out a five-year strategy for prevention, protection, and prosecution policies.  In 2022, MOGEF held public hearings and other forums to collect civil society input on the development of the plan.  The government continued efforts to raise awareness of sex trafficking through public broadcasting programs and ad campaigns on social media and reported it mandated one hour of education per year on sex trafficking prevention for all public sector workers.  MOF developed educational materials for foreign seafarers in four languages that included information on forced labor.  Anti-trafficking NGOs reported there were low levels of public awareness of human trafficking, as defined by international law.  To reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, officials provided schools, government agencies, and other public organizations with anti-commercial sex and trafficking education programs.  In February 2023, as a result of the newly enforced anti-trafficking law, the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea began trial operation of the government’s first trafficking-specific hotline.  The trial hotline operated for seven hours each weekday, provided counseling and relevant information to potential victims of human trafficking, and referred victims to law enforcement authorities.  The government reported it distributed informational materials about the hotline to the public and government officials.  The government did not report whether investigations or identification of any victims resulted from calls to the hotline.  MOF operated two call centers to provide counseling for migrant seafarers, with interpretation services in Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Burmese languages.  Out of the nearly 3,000 calls received in 2022, MOF reported operators flagged 22 cases for further investigation, most of which involved non-payment of wages.  In March 2023, the government established a dedicated reporting email for self-reporting abuse.  The government reported 100 percent of distant-water fishing vessels were equipped with wireless internet access, which could enable workers to report exploitation while at sea; nonetheless, NGOs reported many fishermen were unable to access their phones while on vessels.

MOEL provided interpretation, medical treatment, and counseling services to migrant workers through 44 support centers that the government partially funded.  MOEL included information on trafficking in training for new labor inspectors and the MOF trained its labor inspectors on identifying trafficking.  MOEL inspected workplaces, including those that employed groups at risk of trafficking, including migrants and individuals with disabilities.  In 2022, the government conducted inspections at approximately 3,221 workplaces and identified 1,406 violations.  MOEL also conducted investigations into 10 salt farms in 2022 and identified 48 cases of delayed payment of wages and non-disclosure of labor conditions.  The government had agreements with 16 countries to recruit migrant workers through its Employment Permit System (EPS).  The government stipulated in these agreements that only public sector entities could be involved in the recruitment of workers and banned third-party brokers.  MOEL reported that it investigated 191 recruitment agencies, after which it suspended 29 businesses, issued 132 warnings, and cancelled 24 agreements with businesses.  The use of third-party brokers remained a common practice in sending countries.  The government finalized an MOU with the government of Indonesia in January 2022 on protections for migrant seafarers.  MOEL also required dispatch agencies to publicly list the costs they charged to foreign workers on their webpages and facilitated foreign worker labor management education for ROK employers.

The government asserted it permitted workers who reported exploitation or labor violations to MOEL to change their employers while MOEL investigated their claims; the government reported MOEL was required by law to move an employee within three days if a laborer alleged unsafe working conditions or abuse.  According to NGOs, however, MOEL reportedly did not adequately investigate workers’ claims and some workers spent months attempting to prove their exploitation to MOEL before receiving permission to change their place of employment.  In the past, employers found guilty of exploiting their workers often only received fines or suspended sentences.

The government amended two existing policies to protect foreign fishermen, but traffickers continued to capitalize on gaps in ROK labor laws to exploit foreign fishermen in forced labor.  In August 2022, the government amended the Ship Officers Act to stipulate that officers’ seafarer licenses would be revoked if officers physically or sexually assaulted seafarers.  The government amended the Seafarers Act in July 2022 to prohibit the confiscation of migrant seafarers’ identity documents, including passports.  NGOs continued to report many migrant fishermen still did not maintain control of their identity documents and that fines for violating this measure were inadequate to deter confiscation of seafarer documents.  In January 2022, MOF agreed to increase the minimum wage of foreign seafarers to the same minimum wage as ROK seafarers over the course of three years.  The Seafarers Act exempted migrant workers from the legal working and rest hours and paid holidays prescribed for ROK fishermen.  While MOF issued rules in January 2021 to better regulate the recruitment system, prevent excessive working hours, set a minimum salary, and ensure the provision of clean drinking water for migrant seafarers, NGOs continued to raise concerns authorities did not adequately implement these rules and called for stricter punishment of violators.  NGOs reported some migrant fishermen continued to work long hours, sometimes more than 18 hours per day.  The Seafarers Act required all migrant fishermen receive 280 hours of rest a month; a seafarer and vessel captain could reach an oral agreement on how to allocate those hours over the course of a month.  The MOF conducted regular labor inspections, with four inspections per year for distant-water seafarers and two inspections for coastal seafarers.  The government reported conducting on-board inspections of 139 coastal fishing vessels and four distant-water fishing vessels in 2022, compared with 177 fishing vessels in 2021.  The government also reported conducting paper-based inspections of approximately 720 distant-water fishing vessels.  It did not mandate distant-water fishing vessels return to ports for routine labor inspections.  NGOs reported that, unless they required maintenance, distant-water vessels could avoid returning to port and many vessels remained at sea for more than a year at a time, increasing risks for forced labor.  MOF distributed surveys to migrant seafarers working on fishing vessels to enable workers to report abuse and disseminated informational posters on reporting human rights abuses in lounges on distant-water fishing vessels.  The government reported MOF officials were present when coastal seafarers completed the survey; however, NGOs noted concern workers on distant-water vessels may have completed the surveys under the supervision of captains or other senior crewmembers, who could coerce or manipulate workers to not report exploitation on these surveys.  In 2022, the government amended the Seafarers’ Act to require seafarers, shipowners, and human resource managers on ships to take courses on labor rights and human rights protection beginning in 2023.  The government did not adequately regulate the recruitment process for migrant fishermen, and instead a cooperative of private agencies regulated the process and charged a standard recruitment fee of approximately $5,000 to workers, and many paid more than that.  The law prohibited some but not all exploitative wage deductions and worker-charged recruitment fees, which enabled traffickers to use debt-based coercion to exploit migrant fishermen, as well as workers in other industries.  MOEL reported it required recruiting agencies to publicly list the costs they charged to foreign workers on their webpages.

 As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Korea, and traffickers exploit victims from South Korea abroad.  Traffickers exploit South Korean women and children, including children who run away from home and victims of domestic violence, in commercial sex, including in bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments, or through internet-advertised escort services.  Traffickers increasingly utilized online platforms to recruit and coerce victims to engage in commercial sex acts and to facilitate trafficking by communicating with purchasers of commercial sex.  Chat room operators recruit South Korean women and children, including child sex trafficking victims, and threaten them with the release of compromising photographs to coerce them to participate in the production of pornographic materials.  Local governments provided financial assistance to South Korean men living in rural areas to pursue marriages to foreign women; some of these women were exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude.  Traffickers exploit South Korean women overseas, including in the United States, in sex trafficking in massage parlors, salons, bars, and restaurants, or through internet-advertised escort services, often through debt-based coercion.  Traffickers subject men and women primarily from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Thailand, Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Morocco, and other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and South America, to forced labor and sex trafficking in South Korea.  Traffickers force victims who owe debts to entertainment establishment owners or loan sharks into commercial sex.  Sex traffickers exploit some foreign women on E6-2 entertainment visas – many from the Philippines and Thailand – in bars and clubs, including “foreigners only” bars near ports and U.S. military bases.  Job brokers, unscrupulous recruitment agencies, and managers or owners of bars and clubs recruit foreign women under false promises of jobs as singers or performers but instead coerce victims to engage in commercial sex acts.  Recruiters and owners of massage parlors fraudulently recruit women for work as professional masseuses in the ROK but force them to engage in commercial sex acts, sometimes through passport confiscation, physical violence, and threats of deportation or violence.  Some victims are not provided an adequate number of days off, face harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and are paid below the minimum wage or have their wages withheld to discourage them from leaving the ROK or seeking new employment.  Some bar managers reportedly confiscate victims’ passports or alien registration cards and restrict their ability to go outside their workplace.  Women from the Philippines and other countries in Asia enter Korea on tourist visas after receiving false promises of short-term work in factories or other industries but then have their passports confiscated by traffickers who force them to work in clubs and engage in commercial sex acts.  Some women from the PRC, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Cambodia, who are recruited for marriages to South Korean men through international marriage brokers, are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor after their arrival.  Some South Korean men reportedly engage in child sex tourism in other Asian countries.  Travel restrictions and quarantine requirements related to the pandemic prevented traffickers from recruiting some foreign trafficking victims, leaving women in the ROK more at risk of exploitation.  Some brokers also force South Korean women who worked in clubs prior to the pandemic into commercial sex.  North Korean defectors living in the ROK often face economic hardship that increases their risks to trafficking and traffickers subject North Korean women to sex trafficking.  The KNPA, MOJ, and MOF previously acknowledged instances of deportation of foreign trafficking victims, including some who self-reported, and attributed it to a breakdown in communication between investigators and immigration authorities.

Unscrupulous labor recruiters contribute to the forced labor of migrant workers, especially those from Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Mongolia through debt-based coercion by charging workers excessive fees, sometimes leading to thousands of dollars in debt.  Traffickers have forced some physically or intellectually disabled South Korean men to work on fishing vessels and fish, salt, and cattle farms.  Approximately 200,000 migrant workers employed under the government’s Employment Permit System work in fishing, agriculture, livestock, restaurants, and manufacturing.  Undocumented workers are also employed in these sectors, although there are no official statistics on their numbers.  Migrant workers in the agriculture sector are sometimes forced to live in inadequate housing, sometimes in greenhouses, shipping containers, or dormitories.

The ROK is a transit point for Southeast Asian fishermen exploited in forced labor on fishing ships bound for Fiji and other ports in the Pacific.  There are ongoing reports of abuse, including forced labor, of migrant workers in the South Korean fishing fleet, one of the world’s largest distant water fishing fleets.  Recruiters, boat owners, captains, and job brokers often use debt-based coercion to exploit migrant fisherman in forced labor on South Korean-flagged or owned vessels.  Reports estimate nearly 4,000 migrant workers, mainly from Indonesia, are employed on these vessels.  South Korean distant water fishing vessels frequently use at-sea trans-shipment of catches and can often stay at sea for a year or longer without visiting a port, limiting the ability of workers to report exploitation to authorities or to safely leave their exploitation.  Recruitment agencies and job brokers often charge fishermen excessive recruitment fees, typically around $5,000, increasing their vulnerability to debt-based coercion.  Employers often hold the first three months of wages of migrant fishermen on distant water vessels to serve as a “deposit” that they are unable to receive back until the completion of their contract.  Such workers can be forced to work excessive hours, up to 18 hours per day, with limited rest hours or days off, abused physically and verbally by boat captains, subjected to salary deductions, provided inadequate food and water, or forced to live and work in unsanitary conditions.  NGOs reported recruitment agencies, captains, and skippers retain coastal and distant water fishermen’s passports to prevent them from leaving their employment.  The use of oral agreements to determine rest days, instead of formal labor contracts, increases fishermen’s vulnerability to trafficking.

Anecdotal reports indicated local police were occasionally complicit in trafficking and related crimes.  Local police sometimes accepted bribes from establishments facilitating commercial sex acts, which may have facilitated sex trafficking.  Traffickers reportedly utilized partnerships with some law enforcement authorities to threaten victims with penalization and deportation.  In previous reporting periods, NGOs reported some local police sexually exploited children and solicited individuals in commercial sex, some of whom may have been sex trafficking victims.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future