The State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report downgraded Thailand and Malaysia to Tier 3 for their negligence in combatting human trafficking. These Southeast Asian nations were among three countries automatically downgraded to Tier 3. They now join the ranks of 23 other top human trafficking offenders, including North Korea, Iran, and Syria.
The annually released TIP report was first initiated in 2001 as an effort to educate and conclusively demonstrate the existence of trafficking worldwide. The report and subsequent creation of the Tier system solidified trafficking as a key priority for U.S. foreign policy.
After four years on the Tier 2 watch list, Thailand and Malaysia were automatically downgraded to Tier 3. Countries designated as Tier 3 may have non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance revoked for failing to address human trafficking—it remains to be seen whether President Obama will enact sanctions against these two nations.
In the case of Thailand, home to an estimated 500,000 victims of trafficking, the downgrade was a long time coming. The report found that Thai civilian and military officials perpetuated smuggling of illegal immigrants from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos and profited from their sale into forced labor in the fishing industry. The Thai government’s acquiescence in trafficking is a significant reason for their downgrade.
Malaysia is primarily a destination, though occasionally a source and transit country for trafficking victims. Many of the victims in Malaysia are foreign migrants from surrounding Southeast Asia, as well as Africa. Both sex trafficking and labor trafficking occur in the country. Perhaps the most significant reason for Malaysia’s downgrade is its repeated failure to comply with anti-trafficking basic standards and its inadequate victim assistance program.
Interestingly, both China and Afghanistan were upgraded. China moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2, and Afghanistan avoided an automatic downgrade to Tier 3 for its improvements in prosecuting and convicting traffickers. China was first designated as a Tier 3 nation last year after having received a waiver to stay on the watch list for nine years. It remains to be seen whether or not China can maintain improvements to its trafficking policies.
While the TIP report has increased awareness and made trafficking a global issue, the battle against trafficking is far from over. Despite global efforts to curtail trafficking, victim identification and prosecution of traffickers remains low. According to the report, only 9,460 traffickers were prosecuted, and of that number, only a little over half were convicted. Furthermore, of the estimated 30 million people trafficked worldwide, a mere 44,000, or roughly0.1 percent of victims, were identified worldwide.
The release of the TIP report should serve as a reminder to the international community and the U.S. to remain vigilant when it comes to protecting the natural rights of human beings. The Heritage Foundation is currently conducting research to improve current U.S. anti-trafficking policy.