USAID broadens antitrafficking efforts in Thailand

A migrant worker from Cambodia in Thailand. Photo by: Emmanuel Maillard / International Labor Organization / CC BY-NC-ND

BANGKOK — On Wednesday, the United States Agency for International Development committed $10 million to assist the government of Thailand in combatting human trafficking.

The agency’s regional mission, based in Bangkok, has supported antitrafficking activities throughout the region since 2006. The new, five-year USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons project will examine the scope of trafficked labor, empower at-risk populations, and help strengthen victim protection systems, according to USAID.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 425,500 people, or 0.63 percent of the total population, live in conditions of modern slavery in Thailand, which remains a source, destination, and transit country for people subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

Considering the crossborder nature of the issue, USAID is launching this new activity focused on Thailand under their broader regional Counter Trafficking in Persons program.

“The project has two purposes: To reduce trafficking in persons in Thailand and protect the rights of those who have fallen victim to trafficking,” Richard Goughnour, acting mission director of the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia, told Devex.

In 2016, Thailand made significant changes to its legal and policy framework for combating human trafficking. The U.S. State Department responded by upgrading the Southeast Asian nation to the Tier 2 Watch List on the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which is reserved for governments that don’t meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making significant efforts to comply.

Still, reports continue that some Thai government officials are directly complicit in trafficking crimes, according to the State Department’s 2017 report, and abuse and exploitation continue to pervade the country’s estimated $7 billion fishing and seafood industry.

With a decided focus on the private sector, USAID’s project will “assess the landscape and explore opportunities to identify potential business partners,” according to Goughnour.

The aim is to partner with private sector companies, businesses, employers, industry, and trade associations to “improve policies that will help reduce and prevent human trafficking in workplaces and supply chains,” he said.

A piece of the initiative will also focus on strengthening victim protection systems, which will involve work with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, CTIP multidisciplinary teams, and NGOs to improve the identification of trafficked persons, and improve their access to support services critical to recovery and reintegration, Goughnour explained.

In the first year, the project team will launch fact-finding activities initially in Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Sakaew, and Surathani, focusing on the agriculture, construction, and fishing and seafood processing sectors.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.