Comments on the USA Trafficking In Persons Report 2013

Source (institute/publication)
Liz Hilton, Empower Thailand

Although migrant sex workers in Thailand are grateful for the concern showed for their well-being they would like to ask people read their report “Hit & Run” rather than the TIP report on Thailand which is again disappointing in so many ways. In brief, the TIP report is very poorly written; there is a complete lack of accountability; it is full of sweeping assumptions and generalizations; conclusions are based on guesswork rather than evidence e.g. “sex tourism may fuel human trafficking - presumably then there is an equal chance that it may not? The chronic problem they have with accurate and credible numbers persists e.g. according to the first TIP report 2001 there were 700,000 people trafficked globally but now the same report claims 27 million people are trafficked. . It is not credible academically and not accessible to migrant communities.  The report adds no new or useful information to the previous reports.

Every single TIP Report (2001- 2013) has stated that “the Thaigovernment is failing to comply with America's minimum standards for eliminating trafficking” with a special mention for continued non-compliance over the past 4 years. (Tier 2 watch list).

Thailand has an estimated 4 million migrants from neighboring countries. About 1.5 million have documentation that allows them to live and work in Thailand albeit under stringent conditions. The majority of migrants, over 2.5 million people including migrant sex workers, have no access to such documentation. 

Nearly all 4 million migrant workers documented or not, work in substandard conditions in Thailand i.e. paid below the minimum wage, working long hours and working in places that don’t meet occupational health and safety standards.  Of these a proportion will be working under duress…in unsafe, unfair conditions they do not dare leave in case they cannot find other work or are arrested. Of those a smaller proportion will be in debt bondage working off an exaggerated debt that is impossible to pay. Of those a smaller proportion still are in situations of forced labor with no freedom of movement whether in domestic work, sex work, agriculture or fisheries. Of those an even smaller proportion again will meet the legal definition of trafficked persons. A similar continuum exists for millions of local Thai workers.

Millions of people in Thailand, including four million migrants (4,000,000) have little or no access to services and routinely have their rights abused - yet the US only pressures Thailand to concern itself with people found to be trafficked (The report says 270 trafficked persons were assisted in Thailand last year).  Improving enforcement of safe fair work conditions in all industries would assist all workers including but not limited to people who are trafficked.


Even for those 270 people who were identified as trafficked the strategy of detention and deportation are often experienced as punishment not assistance.

In 2012 -2013 the 107 men who were trafficked were given legal and social support, permission to find work and access to justice in Thailand. The remaining 163 people (children, minors and women) were given partial assistance and kept in detention prior to deportation. The ability to arrange safe return to Burma in particular is questionable. Armed conflict and human rights abuses are still prolific yet ignored by agencies deporting trafficked people. Around 80 minors were removed from the sex industry during raids. However these same raids also resulted in the illegal detention and human rights abuses of around 1,000 migrant sex workers. At least two teenage girls drowned in April 2013 while trying to escape from the government shelter.

For the remaining millions the situation was even bleaker. Whereas just ten people were convicted of trafficking, prosecution of workers was much more popular. Almost 400,000 people from neighboring countries were formally arrested and deported for immigration breaches and some 30,000 sex workers were arrested and charged with prostitution.  Some migrant sex workers told of being alternately rescued and arrested for immigration and prostitution offences on separate occasions within the same year.

 The Mekong Club... anti-trafficking business

The Thai government spent a minimum of $US3.7 million on human trafficking in 2013 – about the same amount it allocates for spending on migrant worker health for more than a million people!    $US 3.7 million to administer assistance for 270 people and convict 10 traffickers. The anti-trafficking budget is larger than spending on climate change.

On one hand money for anti-trafficking projects flows freely along the borders of Thailand – the carrot...
at the same time threats of trade sanctions and public shaming epitomized by the TIP report become the stick which eventually is used to punish migrants.

In 2013 we see the US TIP Report and the modern face of anti-trafficking are still a long way from how we really live, work and dream… we dread its release every year because we know it will lead to more punishment for all migrant workers, especially migrant sex workers…maybe next year?


In February 2012 Empower Foundation launched a report produced by over 200 migrant sex workers in Thailand that identified impacts, opportunities and recommendations regarding human trafficking in the sex industry in Thailand.  In over 12 months since the launch the US Trafficking in Persons Report authors have never met or spoken with a single sex worker involved in that research or referred to it in any way.  The report “Hit & Run” is available on our website: