February 24, 2010

IV. Forced Labor and Human Trafficking

All the other girls were crying all the time but I just kept quiet because I thought to myself that if I cry they can kill me and if I don’t cry they can also kill me, so why should I cry? So I just prepared my heart to face whatever was going to happen, because I did not want to cry. I thought I was going to die. [113]
Bee Komjamwong, migrant worker from Laos who was trafficked into sex work. [114]

Undocumented migrant workers are also highly vulnerable to deception by labor brokers, typically from their own countries, who deliver them into the hands of Thai employers who then compel them to work at jobs through use of threats, force, and physical confinement. Human Rights Watch found workers who were forced to work in factories, commercial sex establishments, fishing boats, and domestic service. Some were compelled to labor on community projects or held for ransom on the Thai-Malaysia border. Forced labor and trafficking[115] violate Thai national law[116] and the Thai government’s commitments under various ILO and other human rights treaties.[117]

Forced labor of migrant workers in Thailand has been broadly reported. The US State Department noted in its 2008 human rights country report on Thailand that “there continued to be reports of sweatshops or abusive treatment in livestock farms, seagoing trawlers, animal feed factories, and seafood processing factories in which employers prevented workers, primarily foreign migrants, from leaving the premises.” The ILO has reported that forced labor occurs in maritime fishing, seafood processing, and other light manufacturing, low-end garment production, agriculture, and domestic work.[118] Thai government officials, accompanied by NGO staffers, led a raid on March 10, 2008, on the Anoma seafood factory in Mahachai district of Samut Sakhon. A total of 72 undocumented migrant workers were freed from forced labor, including 20 children and 10 adults identified as trafficking victims.[119]

These workers often move from their countries of origin to workplaces in Thailand in travel arranged by networks of Thai and migrant brokers. Many workers are unable to pay the costs in advance. With varying degrees of knowledge about the terms and conditions of the arrangement, migrants frequently enter into debt repayment arrangements where the costs of movement and job placement are deducted from migrant workers’ future pay. However, brokers usually immediately recover these costs from the workplace, leaving the employer as the collector of the migrants’ debt. Employers’ interest in recovering these recruitment costs through pay deductions often leads them to exert unreasonable controls over their migrant employees, including withheld wages and restrictions on movement. In some cases they may charge extra pay deductions for food, accommodation, or spurious penalties, leaving migrants in situations where they cannot repay the escalating debt. In the worst cases, migrants become trapped in situations of debt bondage, other forms of forced labor, and human trafficking.[120]

Undocumented migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to unregistered, unscrupulous brokers, lack of valid travel documents, fear of authorities, and limited information about their rights and how to get help. The case of 16-year-old Bee Komjamwong from Pakse, Laos, is commonplace. She told Human Rights Watch she had just finished 10th grade when she was offered work selling food in Samut Prakan by a broker from Bangkok who was visiting her village. In late May 2008 she arrived at Mor Chit bus station in Bangkok, but the broker failed to appear. Bee believes the broker likely set her up, because a man singled her out and approached her, duped her into a van offering a free ride, and held her at gunpoint with eight other Burmese and Lao women. The two men holding them repeatedly slapped and kicked the women to intimidate them and keep them quiet. The van drove the entire day without being stopped at any checkpoints. The traffickers refused to feed the women, yelling at them “Why do you need to eat? It will make you less beautiful!” Hungry, fearful, and disoriented, Bee and the others could not discern where they were when the van stopped in the early evening. The men herded them onto a waiting boat; the overnight voyage ended on an island where Bee said she thought she was no longer in Thailand because none of the road signs were in Thai. The traffickers locked them in a room and continued to deny them food. The next day, they were delivered to a karaoke bar where the owner immediately took Bee to a room and raped her. She told Human Rights Watch, “All of the girls had to sleep with the customers, no one had a choice—there were so many customers, and we had to sleep with them any time of day or night.”

After a week, on a particularly quiet night with few customers, she said she and another Lao woman were able to flee, running into the jungle and moving constantly to evade any pursuers. Finally, they reached a flower farm run by an elderly couple who spoke southern Thai dialect. The couple regularly sent deliveries of flowers to Lat Prao, Bangkok, and several days later transported the two women back to Thailand, allowing Bee to successfully reunite with her mother working in Samut Prakan. Bee says her mother had filed a case with local police at Samrong sub-district in the Muang district of Samut Prakan province, when her daughter disappeared. She said that the police claimed they conducted an investigation into the gang at Mor Chit, but did not find anything.[121]

Migrant children even younger than Bee are also vulnerable. Three Lao girls aged 10, 11, and 15 from related families in Ban Pak Huay Der, located in Laos across the Mekong River from Ubon Ratchathani province, and were promised 1500-baht-per-month jobs as domestic workers in Thailand’s Rayong province. The offer came from a Thai woman named Ouan working in rubber plantations who knew a woman from the girls’ village. The girls went with the agreement of their parents, but as soon as they arrived in late April 2007 at Jae Hoong’s[122] isolated house in Rayong province, they learned Ouan had sold them for 10,500 baht to Jae Hoong. The youngest girl, who we call Sai Wan, said that within three days, Jae Hoong sold her to another house owner, Jae Ku, who took her away to her house. Meanwhile, Jae Hoong brought brokers to the house to consider the eldest, whom we will call Dakkadan, and the middle child, whom we will call Lamyai. The first, a male broker, looked over the two and told Jae Hoong “those girls are too young still, wait for them to grow a bit more.” Next a woman broker came and Jae Hoong was prepared to sell them, but the girls resisted. Dakkadan explained: “We would not go.... and so they hit us on the back, our legs and our arms. We did not know who this woman was and what sort of work she would take us to do.... and we did not want to be split up.... They tried to pull us to make us go.... they hit us, and we cried and cried—but we still refused to go—so finally they left us.” Jae Hoong promised to send money to the parents of the two girls for their work, but according to the girls’ parents, no money was ever sent.

According to the girls, members of Jae Hoong’s family hit Dakkadan and Lamyai daily. The only thing that prevented Dakkadan and Lamyai from running away was their fear they would lose Sai Wan forever because they did not know where she had been taken or how to contact her. The two girls said that they surreptitiously called their parents who launched an effort to get their children back, but they had to pay Jae Hoong 10,500 baht per child, a relative fortune for poor Lao villagers, before the three girls were allowed to return home. [123]

Ko Oo, a migrant worker from Burma, told Human Rights Watch how a migrant labor broker passed him at the Thai-Burma border to an armed man who claimed to be a Thai policeman. Ko Oo said the Thai man drove him five hours to the Gulf of Thailand and delivered him to a fishing boat. When Ko Oo protested because he received no pay for the first two months of work, he learned from the crew chief that he had been sold to the fishing boat and would have to work without pay for at least another five to six months. He said, “I felt very sad when I heard that—I came to Thailand to make money but now I was working as a slave laborer.” He started planning to flee, and spoke with the other 12 fishermen on board, but they were too afraid to join him. Ko Oo said he escaped on the night of August 22, 2008, by slipping overboard and swimming ashore while the captain slept. He said he walked through the night to reach Surat Thani town, where he received assistance from the Burmese migrant community. Reflecting on his experience, he said “We want fair wages and to be treated as human beings. Though we work very hard at our workplace, we get nothing, so our lives are like as slaves.... That means that our lives are good for nothing.”[124]

Kam Noi, an ethnic minority man from southern Laos, told Human Rights Watch that a labor broker in Laos approached him in 2007 and promised him work on a farm in Thailand. But instead the broker sent Kam Noi on a truck whose driver delivered him into forced labor on a small fishing boat in Prachuab Khiri Khan operating in the Gulf of Thailand. Kam Noi had never been at sea and could not swim, and lacked any experience with heavy fishing work. The fishing boat owner never paid him for the work he did. Kam Noi told Human Rights Watch, “It was really hard work and I was worried that I could not continue to do it, and that I will not survive. I was scared about so many things. I was scared of the sea because I cannot swim ... I was scared the boat would sink or that there would be a problem.” When he snuck away from the boat in Pranburi port in Prachuab Khiri Khan province, one of the relatives of the boat owner caught him. He said that she yelled at him for not paying back the money for the trip to Thailand: “She threatened me, and told me that if I try to run away again, she will call the police.” Several hours later, Kam Noi ran away again, this time successfully.[125] While returning to the Thai-Lao border in Ubon Ratchathani, Kam Noi said he escaped an attempt to abduct him at Hua Lamphong train station by a taxi cab driver who he believes would have sold him to human traffickers.[126]

Aye Maung, a migrant worker from Burma, told Human Rights Watch that he was compelled to transfer money in April 2008 to a human trafficking gang at the Thai-Malaysia border holding his two cousins after they were deported from Malaysia to Thailand. He said his cousins called using the traffickers’ phone. He said, “They said to me you can only talk to us about money. Will you pay or will you not? If you talk about other things, we will be beaten.” He added that “If I didn’t send the money, I think that they would have been beaten, and then sent on a fishing boat to Indonesia.”[127] Aye Maung borrowed funds from friends in order to raise the money within two days and meet the traffickers’ deadline. For each of his cousins, he transferred 18,000 baht to the traffickers’ bank account, and when they received the money the traffickers transported his cousins to Mahachai and released them.[128]

In some instances, migrants said that government officials seized or otherwise took control of migrants and forced them to perform labor with the threat of physical harm or other retaliatory actions if they refused. Soe Myo told Human Rights Watch that he and fellow migrants were compelled by the village chief in their village in Thai Muang district of Phang Nga province to do unpaid, forced labor, including cleaning the village and roads and making cement blocks. The assistant to the village chief supervised the work, and the migrants were fearful of opposing the order. Soe Myo said “We never refuse, we don’t know what will happen to us if we refuse, but I think that he [the village chief] will threaten us or not allow us to stay and work in his village.” Unregistered migrants had to report to the village chief with their employers to fill out forms, which they needed to submit with two photos and 300 baht. In April 2008, Soe Myo reported that the village chief forced all the migrant workers to buy t-shirts from him at an exorbitant price (250 baht), threatening that “for the ones who don’t buy my shirt I will record it and I will not allow him or her to stay in my village ... and we will ask the police to come arrest you all.”[129]

Article 38 of the Constitution of Thailand (2007) prohibits forced labor. Forced labor is also prohibited under the ICCPR,[130] the ICESCR,[131] and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[132] Thailand has ratified ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labor and is obligated “to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period.”[133] Thailand has also ratified ILO Convention No. 182, the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.[134] The Thai government signed, but has not yet ratified, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.[135] With the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E. 2551 (2008), Thailand took an important step to brings its law and practices into compliance with UN standards but weak enforcement of the law remains a major problem.[136]

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Bee Komjamwong, migrant worker from Lao PDR, Kong Jiem district, Ubon Ratchathani province, August 21, 2008.

[114] According to her account, Bee’s case clearly constitutes trafficking because it fulfills all three areas of the international definition of human trafficking. She was transported and transferred, there was clear use of force, and she was delivered into a situation of exploitation for prostitution.

[115] According to the 2001 UN convention against trafficking, “`Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”  Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol), adopted November 15, 2000, G.A. Res. 55/25, annex II, 55 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 60, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (Vol.I) (2001), entered into force December 25, 2003, art. 3(a).

[116] See, e.g., Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E. 2551 (2008).

[117] See, e.g., ILO Convention No. 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (Forced Labour Convention), adopted June 28, 1930, 39 U.N.T.S. 55, entered into force May 1, 1932; ICCPR, art. 8.

[118] Pearson, The Mekong Challenge – Underpaid, Overworked, and Overlooked,pp. 29-37; Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB) Migrants Section and Philip S. Robertson Jr., The Mekong Challenge – Working Day and Night: The Plight of Migrant Child Workers in Mae Sot, Thailand (Bangkok, International Labour Office, 2006), pp. 41-42, 50-53, 59-60.

[119] The Anoma factory raid occurred before the new Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E. 2551 (2008) came into effect on June 5, 2008. Prior to the new law’s enactment, males who were 18 years or older could not legally be considered as victims of human trafficking in Thailand. Most of the remaining migrant workers freed at Anoma would have been likely classified as trafficking victims, say NGOs directly involved in the raid. Human Rights Watch discussion with Sompong Srakaew, director, Labor Rights Promotion Network (LPN), Mahachai district, Samut Sakhon province, May 25, 2009. The US State Department’s 2008 report on human rights abuses in Thailand noted that 72 persons were held against their will at the factory, including 10 who were later screened and determined to be trafficking victims by the Thai government, US Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2008: Thailand.”

[120] United Nations Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), From Facilitation to Trafficking – Brokers and Agents in Samut Sakhon, Thailand, SIREN Field Report TH-01, June 26, 2007, http://www.no-trafficking.org/reports_docs/siren/SIREN%20TH-01%20Samut%20Sakhon%20brokers%20and%20agents.pdf (accessed May 20, 2009).

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Bee Komjamwong, August 21, 2008.

[122] “Jae” signifies an older, usually ethnic Chinese woman. The girls never knew the full name of the woman who was their employer.

[123] Human Rights interviews with two girls, Lamyai and Sai Wan, and three parents (mother of Sai Wan, mother of Lamyai, and father of Dakkadan), Bak La Village, Chong Mek district, Ubon Ratchathani province, August 23, 2008.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Ko Oo, migrant worker from Burma, Muang district, Surat Thani province, August 25, 2008.

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with Kam Noi, migrant worker from Lao PDR, Chong Mek town, Chong Mek sub-district, Sirinthorn district, Ubon Ratchathani province, August 22, 2008.

[126] According to research by The Mirror Foundation, there are gangs involved with deceiving or seizing men from major transport terminals in Bangkok and delivering them into situations of forced labor on fishing boats. The Mirror Foundation, “Labour Exploitation Situation in the Fishing Industry: Mahachai, Songkhla, Ranong and Pattani,” March 25, 2009 and “Five Favorite Spots of Traffickers Identified,” The Nation, December 19, 2008. An anti-trafficking police officer corroborated that such gangs exist and are active. Human Rights Watch interview with lieutenant colonel, Anti-Trafficking Police, Bangkok, November 24, 2009.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Win, Aye Maung, and Zar Ni, August 18, 2008.

[128] Similar cases were reported in research conducted by the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Trafficking, Extortion and Acts of Violence Targeting Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand,” 111th Congress, 1st Session, April 3, 2009.

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Myo, Burman migrant worker from Burma, Na Fak village, Phang Nga province, August 12, 2008.

[130] ICCPR, art. 8.

[131] ICESCR, art. 7.

[132] Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, acceded to by Thailand March 27, 1992, arts. 9(1), 11, 32(1), 34, and 35.

[133] Forced Labour Convention, art. 1.

[134] ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention), adopted June 17, 1999, 38 I.L.M. 1207 (entered into force November 19, 2000), ratified by Thailand February 16, 2001, art. 3: “For the purposes of this Convention, the term the worst forms of child labor comprises: (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.” See also ILO Recommendation concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, June 17, 1999, ILO No. R190, art. 3.

[135] Trafficking Protocol.

[136] The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E. 2551 (2008) in section 6(1) defines trafficking as “procuring, buying, selling, vending, bringing from or sending to, detaining or confining, harboring, or receiving any person, by means of the threat or use of force, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or of the giving money or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person in allowing the offender to exploit the person under his control.” Section 4 of the law defines “exploitation” as “seeking benefits from the prostitution, production or distribution of pornographic materials, other forms of sexual exploitation, slavery, causing another person to be a beggar, forced labour or service, coerced removal of organs for the purpose of trade, or any other similar practices resulting in forced extortion, regardless of such person’s consent.” Section 4 of the law also defines “forced labour or service” as “compelling the other person to work or provide service by putting such person in fear of injury to life, body, liberty, reputation or property, of such person or another person, by means of intimidation, use of force, or any other means causing such person to be in a state of being unable to resist.”