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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Thailand remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included increasing the number of trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions; and initiating investigations of 35 allegedly complicit officials in 2022 and sentencing four to terms of imprisonment.  The government also identified more trafficking victims, began implementation of the new NRM, and trained officials on its use.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during labor inspections and victim identification interviews left many trafficking victims unidentified and, therefore, without care, especially those exploited in forced labor.  Authorities did not make sufficient efforts to protect trafficking victims exploited in forced labor in cyber scam operations in neighboring countries, including Thai citizens who entered the country after their exploitation, often without legal status; government officials did not identify the majority as trafficking victims, placed foreign victims in immigration detention centers, and arrested victims, including Thai citizens, for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked in these illicit operations.  The government’s requirements by law that most foreign victims remain in shelters throughout legal proceedings against traffickers deterred many potential victims from reporting their exploitation or agreeing to participate as witnesses, undercutting law enforcement and overall protection efforts.  Significant gaps in the government’s provision of services to victims persisted.  Corruption and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts.

  • Proactively investigate and prosecute officials allegedly complicit in facilitating trafficking, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Increase efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims exploited in forced labor in cyber scam operations arriving in Thailand; cease placing victims in immigration detention centers and ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. 
  • Fully implement the NRM and the reflection period for victims and open victim identification centers. 
  • Use victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches, including during multidisciplinary team (MDT) interviews and labor inspections. 
  • Increase the use and availability of interpreters to assist victims, including in shelters and court proceedings. 
  • Increase use of visas to enable victims to remain and work in Thailand after the completion of proceedings against traffickers. 
  • Train officials on and ensure effective implementation of guidelines for the implementation of Section 6/1 of the anti-trafficking law and identification of labor trafficking victims. 
  • 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 government- and NGO-operated shelters provide victims with adequate trauma-informed and individualized care, such as legal assistance and psychological care, and implement 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. 
  • Increase awareness among relevant officials of trafficking indicators such as debt-based coercion, excessive overtime, confiscation of documents, and non-payment of wages. 
  • Screen any North Korean workers for signs of trafficking and refer them to appropriate services in a manner consistent with obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2397.

The government increased law enforcement efforts.  Section 6 of the 2008 anti-trafficking law, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 400,000 baht to 1.2 million baht ($11,490 to $34,760) for offenses involving an adult victim and six to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 600,000 baht to 2 million baht ($17,380 to $57,940) 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 baht to 400,000 baht ($1,450 to $11,590) 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 2022, the government reported investigating 253 trafficking cases (188 in 2021), prosecuting 308 suspected traffickers (125 in 2021), and convicting 249 traffickers (82 in 2021).  Courts sentenced 201 convicted traffickers in 2022, with approximately 99 percent sentenced to two or more years’ imprisonment.  In 2022, courts issued forfeiture orders for assets valued at approximately 80.13 million baht ($2.32 million) in trafficking cases litigated by the Anti-Money Laundering Office.  The Thai Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigated 41 cases of Internet-facilitated child trafficking in 2022 (11 in 2021).  Officials initiated investigations of 47 cases of suspected labor trafficking, including one case involving the fishing sector, compared with 22 labor trafficking investigations in 2021.  For the first time since its enactment in 2019, courts convicted a labor trafficker under section 6/1 and issued a sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

The government operated specialized anti-trafficking divisions in the Bangkok Criminal Court, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and the Royal Thai Police (RTP).  Thai authorities continued to share information and evidence with other countries.  In addition, the RTP met with law enforcement officials from the PRC and Burma to improve cooperation on efforts to combat trafficking, including forced labor and forced criminality in cyber scam operations.

Although law enforcement increased the number of labor trafficking investigations, NGOs assessed officials did not effectively identify labor trafficking cases; this likely stemmed in large part from a lack of understanding of forced labor among officials, corruption, and officials being deterred by lengthy court processes for these cases.  Some observers reported officials often did not identify debt-based coercion, excessive overtime, or withholding of wages as indicators of labor trafficking.  In some cases, officials encouraged potential victims to accept mediation with their employer or pursue their cases as labor law violations, rather than recognizing them as trafficking victims and recommending criminal prosecutions against the traffickers.

Law enforcement often used the results of victim identification interviews as the final determination of whether a trafficking case existed; observers reported the interviews were sometimes ineffective.  In some provinces local officials lacked the capacity to effectively investigate trafficking, and some officials were reluctant to identify cases out of fear it would negatively impact perceptions of Thailand; in addition, some provincial governments set “zero tolerance” polices for trafficking, which contributed to a reluctance to investigate cases.

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 participation in proceedings against traffickers.  Nonetheless, some NGOs reported difficulty navigating the legal process when assisting victims with little support from the government.  The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) also aided victims who were unable to participate in proceedings in person to prepare impact statements in lieu of testimony.  The government amended the law to enable informants in trafficking cases to participate in the witness protection program.  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.  In some cases, courts did not provide adequate accommodations for victims to participate in trials.  Some migrant victims could not fully participate in legal proceedings because of a lack of interpreters.  While some judges employed victim-centered approaches during trials, other judges and court officials lacked sufficient understanding of trauma-informed care, resulting in harmful treatment of victims during court proceedings.  The trafficking division of the criminal court did not institutionalize trafficking trainings for judges newly assigned to the division, which likely contributed to the use of practices that were not trauma informed.

The government frequently rotated police officers with experience working trafficking cases out of their positions and replaced them with inexperienced officers.  The government, often in collaboration with NGOs and international organizations, trained police, immigration officials, and labor officials on victim identification, labor trafficking, online investigative techniques, and conducting forensic interviews.  The RTP Cadet Academy incorporated trafficking into its training curriculum.  In November 2022, the government signed an MOU with a foreign government to create a training facility to train law enforcement and improve regional cooperation in trafficking investigations.  In collaboration with NGOs, the OAG provided anti-trafficking trainings for prosecutors on the use of trauma-informed approaches.  The government also held workshops with various agencies to increase interagency collaboration.  The Courts of Justice (COJ) collaborated with an international organization and a foreign government to train judges overseeing trafficking cases.  The COJ also collaborated with an NGO to train interpreters working trafficking cases.  The OAG’s trafficking litigation unit continued to use 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.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking and related crimes perpetuated human trafficking in Thailand and contributed to impunity for such crimes.  This included corrupt immigration officials facilitating trafficking by accepting bribes from brokers and smugglers along Thai borders, which observers reported contributed to traffickers increasingly utilizing Thailand as a transit country to exploit victims in special economic zones (SEZs) and cyber scam operations in neighboring countries.  The deputy prime minister chaired the National Committee on Prevention of Official Complicity in Human Trafficking.  The DSI established the Complicit Officials in Human Trafficking Monitoring and Investigation Center, which monitored and investigated suspected complicit officials.  Initiated in the previous reporting period, the DSI also implemented a database of public officials who worked on trafficking cases, allowing the DSI to monitor the progress of cases.  The government reported initiating investigations of 35 officials accused of complicity in trafficking crimes in 2022, compared with new investigations of 17 officials in 2021.  Of the 35 officials, 24 remained under investigation, nine were under prosecutors’ consideration, and two were filed for consideration of the court of first instance at the end of the reporting period.  In 2022, courts sentenced four complicit officials, with terms ranging from 15 to 325 years’ imprisonment.  In addition, in February 2023, the RTP charged 107 immigration officers with crimes related to the alleged issuance of illegal visas to People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals potentially associated with cyber scam operations involved in forced criminality in neighboring countries.  Among the 129 officials investigated for official complicity since 2013, 10 remained under consideration of the court of first instance, courts convicted and sentenced 42 to terms of imprisonment, and courts acquitted nine of charges; 41 officials remained under investigation, 22 were under prosecutors’ consideration, and five fled charges.

The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims.  The government identified 444 trafficking victims in 2022, compared with approximately 424 victims identified in 2021.  The 444 identified trafficking victims included 165 men and boy victims and 279 women and girl victims; 344 Thai victims, 41 Laotian victims, 25 victims from Burma, ten Indian victims, seven Indonesian victims, 11 victims from other countries (Cambodia, PRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, and Kenya), three stateless victims, and three victims from unidentified countries; and 139 victims of sex trafficking and 229 victims of labor trafficking.  The government reported providing services to all 444 (compared with 354 victims in 2021) including through the provisions of shelter, reintegration support, legal assistance, financial assistance, and other support; 170 victims received assistance in government shelters, 32 victims resided in NGO government-registered shelters, and 242 received services outside shelters, the vast majority of whom were Thai.  Authorities identified 92 migrant labor trafficking victims exploited in Thailand in 2022, including one exploited in the fishing sector.

Thailand’s NRM, which was approved in March 2022, guided officials to place potential victims in a temporary shelter where they could access basic services for up to 15 days before undergoing identification interviews by MDTs.  MDTs, which included representatives from government agencies and NGOs, interviewed potential victims to formally identify trafficking victims and refer them to services.  Formal identification by MDTs was necessary for victims to obtain a legal right to the full range of services available to trafficking victims, including access to the government’s trafficking shelters.  After formal identification by MDTs, the government provided victims who consented to participate in legal proceedings against traffickers with services or allowed victims an additional 30 days to decide if they wished to participate in legal proceedings.  Under the previously existing framework, which was still used by some officials, 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 which MDTs conducted victim identification interviews.  This process was a significant barrier for some victims who were not physically or psychologically prepared to undergo the MDT identification process to obtain services.

The government allocated funding to the Ministry of Interior to establish 10 victim identification centers in provinces selected for their trafficking risks; potential victims could receive services at the centers during the reflection period.  The government opened one center during the reporting period, which assisted 59 potential victims, but had not opened the remaining centers by the end of the reporting period.  The government previously reported it had opened the first victim identification center in Don Muang in March 2022, but the facility was still under construction by the end of the reporting period.  The government, in collaboration with civil society organizations, trained officials from relevant agencies on the NRM.  Despite these trainings, implementation of the NRM was uneven; some officials remained unsure how to implement it and the government did not allocate sufficient resources to ensure its effective implementation throughout the country or provide sufficient training to labor inspectors on it.

The government began implementing SOPs, originally approved in March 2022, for the identification of labor trafficking victims according to the 2019 forced labor amendment of the trafficking law (section 6/1).  The government reported conducting more than 1,000 screenings utilizing these SOPs and identified 13 potential victims from October 2022 to February 2023; officials referred potential victims to MDTs for formal identification interviews, in accordance with the SOPs.  The Ministry of Labor (MOL) continued to collaborate with an NGO to assess and revise the SOPs; however, many local officials did not receive sufficient training on their use.

Some officials lacked understanding of trafficking and did not effectively implement identification procedures consistently throughout the country.  Some officials concluded if individuals originally consented to come to Thailand to work, including through irregular migration channels, they could not be trafficking victims.  The government required immigration officials be present for MDT interviews involving migrants, which likely deterred some from recounting their experiences, fearing deportation or detention.  There were reports authorities discouraged MDTs from changing their assessments after a second victim interview.  While MDTs confirmed trafficking victims, MDT personnel, which sometimes included local police officers, provincial MSDHS staff, and local labor officials, at times lacked sufficient experience with trafficking victims.  To address gaps in victim identification among provincial level officials, the government continued to send teams to support less experienced MDTs in the identification process.

The DSI, with financial support from an international organization, trained officials from various agencies on screening for indicators and victim identification in labor trafficking in the fishing sector.  Labor inspectors and members of the Royal Thai Navy screened migrant workers for trafficking during inspections, including during inspections of fishing vessels.  However, due to inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during inspections, many labor trafficking victims remained unidentified.  Observers also reported labor inspectors did not understand their role included identifying trafficking victims.  NGOs reported assisting trafficking victims on fishing vessels that underwent inspections, but whom authorities did not identify as victims.

The law protected victims from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, due to incomplete implementation of victim identification procedures, authorities likely penalized trafficking victims for immigration violations and other criminal acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  Officials did not consistently screen irregular migrants for trafficking, particularly those fleeing political instability in Burma, those in immigration detention centers, or those fleeing cyber scam operations in neighboring countries, which left many unidentified victims detained and without services.  Some undocumented foreign victims likely did not report their exploitation to authorities because of fears of arrest and deportation.

Some officials also reportedly lacked understanding of forced labor in cyber scam operations and stated those exploited could not be trafficking victims, despite widespread reports indicating most individuals recruited for these operations faced conditions indicative of forced labor.  Although the RTP worked to facilitate the repatriation of Thai victims of forced labor in cyber scam operations, the government charged victims with criminal violations related to the scamming activities traffickers forced them to commit.

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 the 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.  The 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 formal identification to stay outside government shelters during legal proceedings against traffickers.  Shelters partnered with companies to provide victims opportunities to work outside shelters, and, in a pilot project, one shelter signed an MOU with five companies in 2022; the government reported 42 adult victims received employment, compared with 17 victims in 2021.  Authorities sometimes required undocumented foreign victims 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 and those with temporary stay permits, 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.  Authorities often required victims to stay in shelters until the completion of proceedings or until an advanced stage of providing 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.  The MSDHS held a workshop in October 2022 for shelter officials to develop guidelines appropriate for each shelter on victims’ freedom of movement and access to communication devices; the MSDHS finalized the guidelines during the reporting period.  In practice, the MSDHS implemented different policies for different shelters and among different populations regarding victims’ communication and freedom of movement.  Officials said these measures were taken to ensure 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.  An open-concept shelter developed with an NGO in the previous reporting period closed in May 2022; plans to reopen the shelter remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

The government permitted some victims residing in shelters to obtain outside employment; however, for some foreign victims the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities and some shelter officials cited fears victims 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 because of more freedom of movement.  Victims using the NGO shelters could still obtain compensation from the government’s anti-trafficking fund; however, the government did not provide additional funding to support the operation of these shelters.  Observers reported strict requirements for NGO-operated shelters to receive government permission to assist formally identified victims made it challenging for additional NGOs to operate shelters.  Although the government took some steps to collaborate with NGOs, in practice, government officials did not take meaningful steps to work with these organizations to protect victims or otherwise support the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.

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.  The MSDHS reported all shelters had the capacity to provide temporary accommodations to LGBTQI+ victims, and one shelter could provide long-term accommodations; 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.  The MSDHS did not equip its shelters to provide adequate accommodations for victims with disabilities.  Although the MSDHS reported it worked with the National Interpreter Association to increase the number of interpreters available to assist shelters, shelters often lacked sufficient numbers of interpreters, which weakened their ability to provide adequate services to victims.  NGOs reported interpreters who participated in victim identification interviews and in court proceedings lacked training in trafficking cases.  The MSDHS collaborated with an NGO to develop a training course for MSDHS officials on trauma-informed care and trained social workers, psychologists, and attorneys on trauma-informed care.

The 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.  NGOs reported the inability to stay in Thailand meant many trafficking victims did not want to be identified by authorities because it would result in their repatriation home after participating in legal proceedings against traffickers.

In 2022, the government provided 4.96 million baht ($143,680) to trafficking victims from its anti-trafficking fund (compared with 4.13 million baht, or $119,640, in 2021), including 1.49 million baht ($43,160) that went to victims residing outside government- or NGO-operated shelters, for living expenses, payments for work inside shelters, education, medical care, repatriation, 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.  However, the government developed an online platform for victims to submit requests for compensation from the trafficking fund and established a working group to revise regulations to increase ease of access to the fund.  Nonetheless, the government’s requirement victims stay in shelters during the legal process resulted in some victims, especially female sex trafficking victims, choosing to forgo their rights to compensation to minimize their time in shelters.

The law 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.  Beginning in December 2022, the law allowed the government to use assets seized from traffickers to compensate victims.  The government reported courts ordered 66.6 million baht ($1.93 million) in restitution for victims, an increase compared with 10.7 million baht ($309,970) in 2021.  The 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.

Criminal defamation laws continued to allow companies to pursue criminal charges against potential victims, advocates, and government officials investigating cases, 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.  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.  The 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; the government did make the reports available to the public.  In 2022, the government allocated approximately 441.7 million baht ($12.8 million) toward its prevention and suppression of trafficking budget, compared with approximately 4.46 million baht ($129,200) in 2021.  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.  The government sought input from survivors to produce animated videos raising awareness of child sexual exploitation, including trafficking, which were shown on social media and in schools.  The Ministry of Tourism signed MOUs with government agencies, the private sector, and civil society organizations to implement a project in hotels to identify and prevent child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector.  Civil society expressed concern 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; the bill remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

The 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; 19 potential trafficking cases were reported through this application in 2022, compared with five in 2021.  The government provided updated data from 2021 in the current reporting period.  The government provided updated data from the previous reporting period.  The MSDHS and the MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 19 foreign languages.  In 2022, the MSDHS trafficking hotline received calls related to 331 possible trafficking cases, which were referred to relevant agencies for investigation (267 cases in 2021).

The law permitted recruitment agencies to charge recruitment fees to Thais seeking overseas employment.  Excessive fees incurred by some workers and charged by unscrupulous recruitment agencies made workers vulnerable to debt-based coercion.  In fiscal year 2022, the Department of Employment (DOE) conducted 132 inspections of employment agencies that recruited Thai workers for overseas employment but did not find any unlawful practices.  The DOE charged 173 individuals in 123 cases of recruiting workers without a license and labor fraud.  The MOL and the RTP collaborated to investigate unauthorized online advertisements for jobs for Thai workers overseas that involved trafficking, fraudulent employment, migrant smuggling, and commercial sex.

The government maintained bilateral MOUs with neighboring countries to recruit migrant workers to Thailand.  Authorities continued to implement revised migrant worker recruitment measures developed by a working group in the previous reporting period.  The complicated nature of the government’s migrant worker registration programs, including the MOU process, often resulted in workers’ and employers’ reliance on brokers who charged fees to workers in addition to fees charged by the government or used informal channels to bring workers to Thailand, 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; to cover some costs, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs; and prohibited employers from deducting more than 10 percent of workers’ monthly salaries for personal expenses and retaining travel or other personal documents.  The law prescribed penalties of fines ranging from 10,000 baht to 100,000 baht ($290 to $2,900) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers; the MOL reported fining 360 employers a total of 2.59 million baht ($75,070), with no terms of imprisonment, for employment violations under the law.  The MOL reported prosecuting 15 cases of labor protection violations; the courts ordered fines in three cases amounting to 182,500 baht ($5,290), and 12 cases remained pending at the end of the reporting period.  The law 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 authorities did not adequately define and enforce the regulations on recruitment fees, 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 MOL trained more than 48,000 fishery workers and employers on workers’ rights and trafficking.  However, observers reported insufficient efforts to educate employers in all at-risk sectors on trafficking.  Although government regulations permitted exploited migrant workers to change employers, some policies restricted their ability to do so in practice and sometimes resulted in workers incurring additional fees when they did change employers.  A lack of available interpreters also made it difficult for exploited migrant workers to report exploitation to government agencies.  The Labor Protection Act excluded agricultural and domestic workers from benefits and protections, which heightened their risks to trafficking.  Labor laws prevented migrant workers from forming labor unions, which, according to civil society organizations, further contributed to the vulnerability of migrant workers.  The government inspected 263 migrant worker recruitment agencies but did not find any violations.  According to NGOs, inadequate regulation of brokers and recruitment agencies contributed to unscrupulous practices that facilitated trafficking.

A lack of clear guidance from authorities to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels heightened their risk of trafficking.  The Ministerial Regulations on the Protection of Labor in the Marine Fisheries required employers to provide a contract in a language migrant fishermen could 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, concerns remained that some workers were still paid in cash, were unable to access their funds because of a lack of cash machines near some ports, or were not sufficiently trained on how to use the system, and vessel owners, captains, or brokers withheld workers’ bank cards and security codes.

The MOL worked with NGOs to provide services, including receiving complaints of labor violations, assisting workers in changing employers, and updating workers’ registration documents, at 10 migrant worker assistance centers.  The government reported continued efforts from the Anti-Labor Trafficking Ad Hoc Working Group, established by the MOL in the previous reporting period, to inspect employers and workplaces with high risks of trafficking; however, investigations did not lead to any trafficking prosecutions during the reporting period.  The MOL conducted inspections at high-risk workplaces, seafood processing facilities, and fishing vessels and found 6,795 violations of labor laws.  The MOL inspected 55,028 workplaces for unregistered migrant workers and identified 1,093 employers in violation of labor laws; the MOL referred 733 of these cases for further investigation and fined employers a total of 2.59 million baht ($75,030) for employing unregistered migrant workers.  Observers reported labor inspectors were sometimes deterred from completing inspections when companies had influential owners and inspectors interacted with workers very little, often because of language barriers, which prevented them from identifying indicators of trafficking.  In addition, the government did not conduct labor inspections in informal sectors, such as seasonal farming and agriculture, in which migrant workers and children were at risk of forced labor.  The government operated inspection centers at ports to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally and reported identifying 63 vessels in violation of the law and regulations.  The government revised the manual on standardized inspection practices for at-port inspections, originally introduced in 2019.  However, some officials did not follow existing procedures, and at-port labor inspections continued to be inconsistent and ineffective at identifying potential cases of forced labor on fishing vessels, often because of 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.  In addition, observers reported labor inspectors instructed interpreters not to translate reports from workers that included indicators of forced labor, such as excessive working hours or wage violations.  The revised inspection manual included guidance on how to handle reports of missing fishermen.  However, in practice, at-port inspection centers did not universally apply a standardized procedure for referring cases of fishermen who went missing at sea, including identifying indicators of trafficking on the vessels in which they went missing.  The government conducted at-sea inspections of 244 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.  The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including coordinating 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.  After restrictions on bars and other in-person venues related to the pandemic were implemented, traffickers increasingly utilized private residences, including outside urban areas where their operations are more difficult for authorities to detect.  Traffickers induce young Thai girls and boys to perform sex acts through videos and photos on the Internet, sometimes by blackmailing victims with explicit images.  Children are lured by traffickers into commercial sex through the Internet, chat and dating applications, as well as other social networking platforms.  Children in orphanages are at risk of trafficking.  Children of families that lost employment because of 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 forced labor.  More than half of these children are not in school, many work in hazardous conditions with long and irregular working hours, and most are at risk of trafficking.  Some brokers or parents force children from Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma to sell flowers or other items on the streets, to beg, or to work in domestic service in urban areas.  Elderly persons and persons with disabilities from Cambodia are also forced to beg in Thailand.  There are reports separatist groups in Southern Thailand recruit and use children for insurgent activities.

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 because of 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 forcing victims who owe debts to entertainment establishment owners or loan sharks into commercial sex.

Thailand is a source and transit country for criminal syndicates operating cyber scams in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and the Philippines, often in SEZs, where they exploit victims in forced labor, forced criminality, and sex trafficking.  These cyber scam operations use Thailand as a transit country by recruiting workers from numerous countries with false promises of high paying jobs in Thailand, then transport them to neighboring countries where these operations are located and force them to conduct illicit online scams, often through physical violence.  Thai victims are also exploited in these operations in Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, and Burma.  Thai children are at risk of forced labor in SEZs where criminal activity is widespread.

Smugglers, brokers, employers, and others exploit Thai and migrant workers in labor trafficking in commercial fishing and related industries, the poultry industry, manufacturing, garment, agriculture, domestic work, and street begging.  NGOs reported a significant prevalence of forced labor in the production of ethanol, sugar cane, and rubber.  Civil unrest, conflict, and economic hardship led civilians in Burma to migrate to Thailand through irregular channels, which significantly increased in 2022.  These migrants, as well as migrant workers from other countries seeking employment in Thailand, are at risk for trafficking in Thailand.  This increased migration coincided with an increase of informal broker networks operating between Thailand and Burma, which recruited migrants for work in various sectors, including in garment factories and on fishing vessels.

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 bank cards, illegal wage deductions, physical violence, and other means to subject victims to forced labor.  Employers confiscate workers’ identity documents to compel workers to remain in their jobs, often in addition to paying below the minimum wage and failing to provide workers a day off.  Workers in the seafood processing and fishing sectors increasingly faced forced overtime because of an increasing demand for shelf-stable seafood during the pandemic as well as unsafe working conditions.  North Korean nationals working in Thailand may be operating under exploitative working conditions and display multiple indicators of forced labor.

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, sometimes as little as once a year, incur debts from brokers and employers, work as much as 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, and are 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 identity documents of fishermen without their consent.  Some trafficking victims in the fishing sector had difficulty returning home because of isolated workplaces, unpaid wages, and a lack of legitimate identity documents or safe means to travel.  Employers in fishing and seafood processing often made confusing wage deductions for documentation fees, advances, and other charges, making it difficult for workers to account for their wages accurately.  Research published in 2019 and 2020 found that between 14 and 18 percent of migrant fishermen were exploited in forced labor in the Thai fishing industry, indicating traffickers exploited thousands of workers on fishing vessels.

Corruption continues to undermine anti-trafficking efforts.  Some government officials are directly complicit in trafficking crimes, including through accepting bribes or loans from business owners and brothels that exploit victims.  Corrupt immigration officials facilitate trafficking by accepting bribes from brokers and smugglers along Thai borders.  Observers reported this contributed to the increasing trend of traffickers utilizing Thailand as a transit country to exploit victims in SEZs and cyber scam operations in neighboring countries.  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 law enforcement actions, inspections, and prosecutions and collude with traffickers.  Some local police reportedly withhold information from prosecutors to protect traffickers.  Some government officials profit from bribes and direct involvement in extortion from and exploitation of migrants.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future