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Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) - A Critique

September 20, 2017

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is produced annually by the US government to provide an up to date account of human trafficking or modern slavery in every country. Its authenticity and therefore value as revealed in this short critique, is increasingly being questioned.

In introducing the report, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the 2017 Report “focuses on the responsibility of governments to criminalize human trafficking and to hold offenders accountable”. TIP also identifies threats so that globally, law enforcement agencies can respond effectively.

Slavery is illegal in every country, yet world-wide there are an estimated 21 million people enslaved, more than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade! Modern slavery is mainly under the control of global criminal organizations, who force those trafficked to engage in criminal activities. In the TIP Report each country is graded within ‘tiers’ based on compliance with standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. There are four tiers, ranging from Tier 1 for governments who are fully compliant with minimum standards, to Tier 4, for countries not compliant with these and who are not making significant efforts to address human trafficking.

Commenting on the 2017 TIP Report, David Abramowitz, Managing Director at Humanity United was very concerned at the “unjustified upgrades to Malaysia, Burma and Qatar”. Charles Santiago, a Member of Malaysia’s Parliament, was astonished that his country was upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2, because the Report states that “law enforcement officials have been complicit in human trafficking”! Santiago believes this to be politically motivated, linked to the fact that “Malaysia could not be a part of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) if we were still on Tier 3”. The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) is very concerned about Malaysia’s upgrade, which ignores the fact that migrant workers continue to labour in debt bondage e.g. in the electronics and palm oil sector. Additionally, the number of victims identified is grossly underestimated, given the millions of vulnerable migrants in Malaysia.

More worryingly the Malaysian government failed to prosecute any Malaysian officials for their involvement in the Rohingya smuggling rings. Rohingya Muslims are a persecuted minority in Myanmar, where their nationality is disputed and they have few rights. They often flee on boats in an attempt to reach a safer refuge in Malaysia but many are captured by trafficking networks and end up in Southern Thailand. There many of the enslaved Rohingya become the unpaid workforce of the Thai seafood industry, worth more than $7 billion a year. As the world’s third largest seafood exporter, this profitable industry supplying America and Europe with cheap seafood comes at a high cost to the 200,000 migrants working on Thai fishing vessels and in seafood processing plants.
Additionally Thailand is ranked as one of the top five countries for child prostitution, because according to ECPAT (End child Prostitution and Trafficking) some 30,000 to 40,000 children - excluding foreign children - are sexually exploited. A situation aggravated by tourism. For this horrific reality, plus the workers enslaved in the seafood industry, Humanity United was alarmed that Thailand was not downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 this year.

ATEST is also critical of other upgrades revealed in the 2017 TIP Report. He commented that the upgrade of Qatar to Tier 2 is unwarranted, because the Qatari government has still not addressed migrant workers’ vulnerabilities, especially the right to change employer or to leave the country. Qatar has also been criticised for failing to monitor and punish violators, and for not providing redress to workers whose rights are violated.

Another weakness in the TIP Report relates to the list of the world’s worst offenders in the use of child soldiers. Burma, Iraq, and Afghanistan were removed from the list this year. According to US Department officials this exclusion was the result of a direct intervention by Rex Tillerson, despite recommendations from US government experts and senior diplomats. This has left people questioning if the US is prioritizing security and diplomatic interests ahead of human rights? If so, then it raises concern about the validity and value of the TIP Report!

Messages to: Betty Lacey - Researcher for MIA-Global Action
29th August 2017.