Thailand is downgraded to Tier 3 - the lowest level with countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea - in the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, released on Friday 20 July. On top of the recent coup d'état, Thailand has again managed to put up big coverage in world's major newspapers - CNN, Forbes, BBC, The Guardian, and all major national newspapers - Bangkok Post, The Nation, ThaiRath.
On the same Friday, Bangkok-based Alliance Anti Trafic (AAT), an organization supported by Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM), reiterated its commitment to end human trafficking at its 10th year anniversary.
The anniversary was indeed a celebration, but 10 years of AAT's existence and its continual need for expansion say more about the chronic nature of the issue than anything else. As one of the panelists at the event expressed: “This is funny, the more I work to stop trafficking, the more cases there are.”
The battle against human trafficking is far from ending. In fact, some can rightfully doubt if we have even started.
“We have been improving working conditions in the industry for eight years and are sure there has been no child or forced labor in the production chain.” The president of Thai Fishery Producers Coalition, which comprises eight associations, blatantly dismissed a long list of evidence about forced labour in the shrimp and tuna industries.
The president is not alone in this denial movement. The Ministry of Commerce is planning a visit to the US next month to supposedly correct the misunderstanding. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now preparing explanative reports to be released within three months.
Thai officials seem to be very busy these days talking to the international community to get out of the allegations but continue to do very little to actually tackle the issues.
The US and EU account for over 50% Thailand's shrimp exports. The US also buys 22% of Thai tuna along with other raw products. Sanctions from the US and EU are not far-fetch and we can already see their shadows emerging. Stubbornness can incur a far greater price than Thai officials would wish. Human trafficking is not only a human rights issue, but also one of economic and national well-being.
Thailand is standing at a crossroads, confronted with political turmoil, economic stagnation, education failure and natural disasters. Human trafficking is just one of the numerous problems that have long haunted the country. Solving them is not easy and there is certainly no quick fix.
Acknowledgement, not denial, is a necessary first step. Only then we can see Thailand as a true Land of Smiles, not of slavery.