Trafficking in Persons Report
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
June 12, 2007
Report

The victims' testimonies included in the report are meant to be representative only and do not include all forms of trafficking that occur. Any of these stories could unfortunately take place almost anywhere in the world. They are provided to illustrate the many forms of trafficking and the wide variety of places in which they take place. No country is immune. All names of victims that appear in this report are fictional. The photographs on this Report's cover and most uncaptioned photographs in the Report are not images of confirmed trafficking victims, but are provided to show the myriad forms of exploitation that help define trafficking and the variety of cultures in which trafficking victims are found.

Random Factor in Transnational Trafficking

The globalization of markets and labor forces, and the concomitant relaxation of travel barriers have spawned new trafficking scenarios and routes, including some that appear to defy easy explanation. A greater variety of nationalities have been documented recently among trafficking victims in destination countries. While at first glance these linkages may appear difficult to understand, it seems that traffickers are seizing upon any targets of opportunity for exploitation and relying on vast distances and cultural and linguistic differences to increase the vulnerability of victims. This random factor of transnational trafficking will increasingly appear as the economic and logistical obstacles involved in transporting new victims to distant lands diminish.

In the last year:

  • Zambian girls were trafficked to Ireland for commercial sexual exploitation
  • Filipina women were trafficked to Cote d'Ivoire for commercial sexual exploitation
  • Vietnamese children were trafficked to the United Kingdom for forced involvement in drug smuggling
  • Thai men were trafficked to the United States for labor exploitation and debt bondage
  • Dominican women were trafficked to Montenegro for commercial sexual exploitation
  • A Kenyan woman was trafficked to Mexico for commercial sexual exploitation
  • Chinese women were trafficked to Afghanistan for commercial sexual exploitation
  • Russian students were trafficked to the United States for forced labor, selling ice cream

Servitude on the High Seas

Traffickers seek vulnerabilities in their intended victims, and they also seek environments in which they can exploit victims with minimal threat of the victims' escape or law enforcement action. Few environments are more conducive to exploitation than the high seas. Lured into well-paying fishing jobs, a significant number of fishermen and children find themselves confined and forced to work under terrible conditions with no escape or help possible. Many are subjected to beatings; deprived of food, water, and sleep; exposed to highly unsanitary conditions and infectious diseases; and forced to perform life-threatening work in unsafe conditions without pay. Victims who do not die, find themselves exploited by their traffickers anywhere from six months to four years.

The true extent of labor exploitation on the high seas is unknown, but cases that surface are truly abhorrent. In August 2006, more than 30 Burmese fishermen died from infectious diseases and lack of medical care on fishing vessels found off the coast of Thailand; the bodies of victims were tossed overboard, discarded like common refuse. Burmese and Cambodian men and boys are trafficked onto commercial fishing boats in ports on the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Promised employment in seafood processing factories by traffickers, they are commonly delivered directly to fishing vessels and constrained until their ship departs.

In December 2005, 25 Ukrainian victims were found on a Russian fishing boat in the Sea of Japan. Recruiters lured men, ages 18 to 50, from poor fishing communities on the Black Sea with promises of good pay for work aboard industrial fishing vessels. Once at sea, however, the men were forced at gunpoint to work extremely long days without pay. They were deprived of sleep and physically and psychologically abused. They were deprived of food and water if they refused to work and sometimes consumed crab bait, consisting of raw fish, sea water, and melted ice water to survive. Although the vessel served as a perfect prison, their passports were confiscated. The victims were found and rescued when a Russian Coast Guard crew boarded the vessel to search for illegal poached crabs. They found the victims exhausted and half-starved, locked in the ship's hold along with three tons of illegally poached crab.

Another disturbing observation about this phenomenon is the large number of children trafficked to work in the fishing industry. Anecdotal evidence and recent ILO research indicates that up to 40 percent of workers in some fishing industries are under the age of 18. In January 2007, Mark, a six-year-old victim from Ghana, was rescued after working in indentured servitude on fishing boats on Lake Volta for $20 a year. Mark labored in dire conditions under a brutal fisherman who beat him when he did not do as he was told. He is now at an orphanage near Accra and is reported to be recovering well.

Trafficking for Involuntary Domestic Servitude

Marlena traveled to the Persian Gulf to earn money for her family as a domestic servant in a wealthy household. Instead of a room of her own, Marlena slept on the kitchen floor and worked 20 hours every day of the week serving the family. The employer's wife confiscated her passport the day she arrived and forbade her from ever leaving the house. The family locked her inside whenever they left. The employer's wife beat her and called her names when she did not work hard enough. When Marlena tried to run away, the employer told her that she would be arrested for leaving the house without permission. Though the recruitment agent promised her $200 per week, Marlena was never paid by her employers. After eight months, Marlena escaped, but once on the street, the police found and arrested her for running away from her employer. She sat in a deportation center for two years, waiting for her sponsor to grant her permission to leave the country.

Echoes of Marlena's story are heard throughout the world, including the United States, every year as domestic servants face physical abuse, confinement, threats, intimidation, and sexual assault. Children are particularly vulnerable. Throughout South Asia and North Africa, children from villages are often sold by their parents to work as domestic servants in large cities. Away from their families, children as young as eight face long hours of forced labor in households, enduring physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in the process. For them, running away not only carries the risk of police arrest, but also the threat of abuse on the streets.

By the unique nature of their work in a home, domestic servants-both adults and children-are generally isolated from the outside world, preventing them from accessing help or warning others of the dangers of domestic service. Domestic workers report being confined to the house and not allowed to speak to neighbors or guests, to make phone calls, or even write letters to their families. Laws often favor abusive employers because many countries do not protect domestic servants under their labor laws, and restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers often give employers power to control their movements, even requiring the sponsors' permission for the foreign domestic worker to leave the household or the country. This lack of protection, combined with the inordinate legally-sanctioned power for employers, renders domestic servants highly vulnerable to abuse.

Many governments do not regard forced domestic servitude as a trafficking issue. Rather than criminally punish employers for forced labor, governments generally encourage victims to return to the household or seek civil penalties from abusive employers. Victims, traumatized from the abuse or fearing forcible deportation, often agree to allow the government to sweep the issue under the rug. They return home having lost recruitment fees they invested and wages they were owed as well as months or years of their lives. The traffickers, however, remain free and undeterred from exploiting again.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude in Diplomatic Residences

A form of trafficking in persons that this Report has highlighted is the forced labor of domestic servants. Employers largely exploit girls and women, usually from less developed countries, and their suffering in conditions of involuntary servitude is often not witnessed by others outside the employer's family, making it particularly difficult for victims to seek help and for law enforcement authorities to investigate. This problem has been identified in the United States and in other countries around the world.

Most members of the diplomatic community in the United States respect U.S. law and regulations, and most members of the diplomatic community do not have full immunities from civil and criminal jurisdiction. Yet reports indicate that a small number of members of the diplomatic community abuse domestic workers brought to the United States from other countries.

While diplomatic immunity can block traditional law enforcement responses to trafficking crimes, there are alternatives to prosecution that can have a punitive effect on offenders. Also, when informed by a prosecutor that, but for immunity, criminal charges would be brought against a diplomat, the Department of State's policy, reflected in the Foreign Affairs Manual, is to seek a waiver of immunity from the sending state in order to allow prosecution in the United States. If a waiver of immunity is not given, the individual will be required to leave the United States and will not be permitted to return except to face charges. The United States expects diplomats and others here to respect U.S. laws and will seek to hold foreign persons in the United States, including diplomats, to the same standard in the global effort to curb trafficking in persons.

Trafficking of Migrant Laborers: The Onus on Source Governments

The 2005 and 2006 TIP Reports focused attention on the conditions faced by many migrant workers legally contracted to perform low-skilled work in developed countries but who were later subjected to fraudulent misrepresentation of work conditions, debt bondage, or forced labor conditions at the hands of employers in destination countries. This attention has been focused largely on the responsibilities of destination countries where the most obvious forms of exploitation take place. These forms of exploitation include physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical restraint, psychological coercion, confiscation of identify and travel documents, and abuse of immigration laws.

Governments of destination countries for migrant workers have a special obligation to ensure that those workers are not subjected to servitude. Therefore, where credible reports have indicated significant and inadequately addressed servitude of migrant workers, those destination countries are generally rated in Tier 2 Watch List or Tier 3. This focus on the need to protect migrant workers from modern-day forms of slavery will continue.

Increasingly, however, research is showing that source countries permit or encourage some exploitative practices that either place migrant workers in involuntary servitude before they leave for work abroad, or place them in unfair debts that are precursors to involuntary servitude in the destination country. Governments of major source countries of migrant workers have obligations too-obligations to protect these workers' interests by limiting pre-departure fees and "commissions" to reasonable levels that do not contribute to situations of debt bondage. Source countries should negotiate agreements with destination countries to obtain formal guarantees of their citizen's rights while working abroad. Also, source countries should provide a "safety net" of consular officers, legal aid, and ensured access to shelters for workers, should they face conditions of involuntary servitude abroad. This Report sheds new light on the exploitative practices found in some source countries and holds governments in those countries accountable for failing to curb abuses.

Trafficking of East Asian Women through Brokered Marriages

"Vietnamese-They Don't Run Away!-International Marriage Specialist" proclaims the billboard on a South Korean roadside, appealing to single South Korean men who cannot find a marriage partner easily in their own country. Advertisements which present girls and women from less developed East Asian countries as commodities, are also standard fare in Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia. These often offer the option of an organized tour of the source country-such as Vietnam, Cambodia, or Mongolia-to select a bride for purchase, or the option of selecting one from the comfort of home through the use of the Internet-based marriage broker. Other marketing means, including displaying prospective brides at a trade show, have been used.

Governments and NGOs in the region have reported marked increases in the number of brokered international marriages, a significant percentage of which are used to traffic women into commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Large numbers of Vietnamese women-20,000 over the past three years-have married men in Taiwan. Most were introduced through Taiwan-based marriage brokers, assisted by agents or recruiters in southern Vietnam. The number of international marriages in South Korea has risen three-fold in the last 5 years to 43,121. Of these marriages, 72 percent are South Korean men marrying foreign women, most from Southeast Asia and Mongolia.

Meanwhile, NGOs are reporting cases of foreign women placed into conditions of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor by fake "husbands" who work for trafficking rings or by exploitative husbands who feel they "own" the foreign woman and can use her as a farm hand or domestic worker. Taiwanese police in late March 2007 broke up a trafficking gang that had enslaved 35 Indonesian women in factory work. Many had been brought to Taiwan through legal but fraudulent marriages obtained through brokers.

The Taiwan Bureau of Consular Affairs has recognized that traffickers sometimes abuse the legal spouse visa program. Since 2004, enhanced interview requirements and other eligibility restrictions have resulted in a 55 percent drop in the total number of Taiwan visas issued to intending Vietnamese spouses. Taiwan in late 2006 also barred the registration of any new international marriage broker companies and pledged to monitor existing brokers more closely. While South Korea has set up a program of action to assist foreign brides, there have been fewer actions thus far to curtail or better regulate the activities of exploitative South Korean marriage brokers. Source country governments clearly need to do more in prevention and education in this area.

Criminal Punishments for Sex Trafficking and Forced Labor: Seeking Parity

The 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) amended Federal law by specifically criminalizing trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor, assigning each of these trafficking crimes equal criminal penalties-up to 20 years imprisonment with possible additional penalties for aggravating circumstances. Both sex trafficking and forced labor crimes have been prosecuted under the TVPA in U.S. courts, with tough penalties applied to crimes in both categories, and equal protections for victims of sex trafficking and forced labor.

The message that the TVPA and the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol send to the world is clear: Trafficking can take many forms, be it sexual servitude, or forced child or adult labor-and all cases should receive equal attention and equal punishment by governments.

Many governments have criminal anti-trafficking laws that cover only trafficking for sexual exploitation and do not punish trafficking for forced labor-including through the act of recruitment, transferring, and transporting victims, the use of fraudulent employment terms, and physical and psychological coercion-with equally tough criminal penalties. Some governments address labor trafficking through traditional labor compliance regimes, often enforced by Ministries of Labor, that enforce laws against forced labor or other forms of labor abuses through fines and administrative sanctions alone. These punishments, which may be appropriate for less serious wage and hour violations, are not sufficiently stringent to deter the serious crime of human trafficking for forced labor.

Governments should assign tough criminal penalties for the crimes of trafficking for labor exploitation, including through fraudulent recruitment, transportation, and the use of fraud and coercion to exploit victims.

Child Soldiering: The Challenge of Holding Perpetrators Accountable

In many countries, national armies and rebel militias illegally recruit-sometimes through abduction or force-male and female children as combatants, porters, spies, domestics, and sex slaves. The majority of these crimes are perpetrated in environments of complete impunity, outside of governmental control. As armed conflicts expire, governments and the international community must grapple with the questions of whether and how to hold perpetrators accountable for illegally involving children in armed conflict. Justice for victimized children and traumatized local communities has rarely been provided by courts. What makes the prosecution and punishment of these traffickers so difficult and, at times, unlikely is that in many conflicts, all parties, including the government's forces, are guilty of exploiting child soldiers. Most negotiated peace agreements include the integration of rebel forces into the nation's army, with rebel leaders assuming leadership positions in transitional coalition governments or the army. Those already in power or assuming new positions of authority, as in Sudan and Burundi, are unlikely to prosecute themselves for the offense of child soldiering. Moreover, most peace agreements include general amnesty provisions for members of rebel groups that guarantee protection from prosecution for war crimes in exchange for renouncing rebellion and undergoing demobilization.

Even when governments desire to prosecute those who illegally use child soldiers, years of war, political disorganization, and the destruction of national infrastructure have severely weakened the judicial system, leaving it virtually incapable of responding to all types of crime. Consequently, the establishment of formal programs for child soldier demobilization has become a common response for addressing the needs of affected children.

Despite these obstacles, a small number of rebel leaders have been or will be held accountable for unlawfully conscripting and utilizing children. In early 2006, Kanyanga Biyoyo, commander of the rebel army Mundundu-40, was sentenced by a Congolese court to five years in prison for war crimes, including the illegal recruitment and use of child soldiers. In March 2006, the Congolese Government arrested Thomas Lubanga, leader of a rebel movement, and turned him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting and using children under the age of 15 in armed conflict. And in October 2005, at the request of the Ugandan Government, the ICC issued warrants for the arrest of the top five commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army for crimes against humanity, including the enslavement of child soldiers. Many lower profile perpetrators remain unpunished.

Confiscation of Travel and Identity Documents: A Trafficking Tool

Trafficking crimes involve force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person. Traffickers often rely on the confiscation of travel documents-passports, identity cards and airline tickets-as a means of gaining and exercising control over a victim. Without these vital documents, migrants are vulnerable to arrest, punishment, and/or deportation. The threat of these punishments is used by traffickers or exploitative employers as a form of legal coercion or abuse of the legal system. Recognizing this form of coercion, U.S. federal law makes it illegal to seize documents in order to force others to work. Foreign governments are encouraged to criminalize the confiscation or withholding of travel documents of migrants as a means to confine the migrant or keep him or her in a form of work or service.

Child Sex Tourism: Technology and Pornography

Child sex tourism (CST) is a dark side of globalization, with some two million children exploited in the global commercial sex trade. CST involves people who travel from their own country to another to engage in commercial sex acts with children. Tourists typically travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak law enforcement, corruption, and poverty in many tourist destinations and, increasingly, technology that facilitates this predatory behavior.

The explosion of the Internet and the growing use of digital cameras and cell phone cameras have given perpetrators additional tools to victimize children. Predators are going online to share stories, trade child pornography, and plan sex tours. Sex tourists use chat rooms, message boards, peer-to-peer file-sharing servers, news groups, and specialized Web sites to obtain information on potential destinations. One disturbing activity is the establishment of "cyber-sex" dens where some children may be sexually abused by a foreign pedophile and the images beamed via a webcam to the Internet. Payment to watch these live "shows" is often made by a credit card via an Internet connection.

The links between child sex tourism and child pornography are strong. Child pornography is not only used by predators to relive or share their experiences but also to "groom" and blackmail the child victims. The Protection Project determined that child pornography was connected to 42 percent of the child sex tourism cases that it documented during a 2006 project. The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that the victims portrayed in pornographic images are getting younger and the images are becoming more graphic and violent.

While technology has been misused, governments, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), financial groups, non-governmental organizations, and Interpol are banding together to find technological solutions. ISPs are working with law enforcement to report and shut down CST chat rooms, eradicate the distribution of child pornography, and conduct specialized cyber-training for law enforcement personnel. Financial coalitions are forming to deny purveyors of child pornography the ability to use the banking and financial system. A Virtual Global Task Force of law enforcement agencies around the world has been formed to combat these cyber-crimes. The travel and tourism community also joined the cause by supporting a Global Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (see www.thecode.org). Technological answers, however, cannot replace the power of individual involvement. Individuals should report suspected cases of this criminal behavior to the local police and the embassy of the suspected perpetrator's nation. If believed to involve U.S. nationals, individuals should report this suspected child sex tourism to the U.S. embassy's regional security officer.

Debt Bondage in Prostitution

A common scenario in labor trafficking cases is for traffickers to promise people a good job, even benefits, in order to lure them to a new workplace. Then, the traffickers add arbitrary debt as a tool of coercion. A similar debt scheme is increasingly used to enslave women and girls in prostitution throughout the world.

Many women trafficked into prostitution report a never-ending cycle of debt-first they are charged exorbitant fees for the cost of transportation, but daily expenses are frequently added and mount up exponentially. Many women trafficked into prostitution receive no money from pimps or brothel owners. This becomes a cycle of entrapment.

In the United Kingdom, according to a leading NGO, brothel keepers and traffickers force some victims to pay debts that could range as high as 20,000-40,000 pounds ($39,000-$78,000). Commenting on patterns of abuse in prostitution of East European women in London, Detective Inspector Dick Powell from Scotland Yard told the Guardian, "Some [women] have sex with as many as 40 men a day. It's very rare [for her] to get to keep any of the money she earns. We've seen places where 300 pounds ($580) a day goes to the brothel pimp or 'madam,' and that's even before the woman begins to try and pay off the 'debt bondage' of thousands of pounds charged to bring her here." Often, the debt can never be repaid because costs for food, rent, medicines, and condoms are added every day.

Sponsorship Laws and Forced Labor

For many countries in the Middle East, local economies and households thrive on the immigration of foreign laborers. Men and women from South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia come to this region for work as domestic servants, construction workers, and laborers in other low-skilled professions.

Despite these countries' reliance on foreign labor, stringent immigration provisions combined with a bias against foreign workers often create a structure conducive to trafficking in persons. "Sponsorship laws" tie foreign workers to the sponsors who employ them in the destination country, giving employers the authority to provide legal identity cards for foreign workers and allowing them to control whether workers can leave their work sites, or jobs, or even exit the country. Though this is often construed as a protection for the foreign worker, many sponsors abuse this power. For instance, employers commonly do not provide workers with documents legitimizing their employment in the country, thereby restricting their ability to leave the home or work site for fear of arrest and deportation. Similarly, sponsors often threaten workers with arrest if they try to complain about abusive conditions such as physical and sexual abuse or long hours and prolonged nonpayment of wages.

In many instances, abused workers are able to escape conditions of involuntary servitude but face retribution from their exploitative sponsors who abuse the legal system to punish the escaped workers. Often, escaped victims who attempt to file police complaints against their sponsors are instead arrested for running away from their employers without permission. Even if they show obvious signs of distress, they are treated as criminals, detained in jails and, more often than not, deported-a bitter consequence given the exploitation they suffered and the debt most have incurred to migrate to the destination country. In some cases, sponsors refuse to sign exit permits allowing victims to leave the country, effectively holding the worker hostage in a shelter or detention center-sometimes for years-until he or she drops criminal or civil complaints against the sponsor. Crimes committed by the sponsors, meanwhile, go unpunished as victims are often not even given the opportunity to file a criminal complaint before being deported.

Though the right to control the flow of workers into a country remains the sovereign prerogative of states, the power given to sponsors over foreign workers should be more circumscribed and counter-balanced with powers and rights given to workers to seek legal redress-whether civil or criminal. Moreover, governments in the destination or labor-demand countries should be active in making migrant workers aware of these rights and in assisting workers to exercise those rights in seeking legal redress against exploitative sponsors.

West African Child Trafficking Victims and the Cocoa Industry

Following international media reports in 2000 and 2001 of widespread child labor abuses in West African cocoa farms, which produce 70 percent of the world's cocoa, the international human rights community investigated the problem. A 2002 joint study published by the ILO and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that an estimated 284,000 children on cocoa farms in West Africa were "either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked." Most of the children were on cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire, the world's largest cocoa producer. The remaining children labored on farms in Ghana, the world's second-largest producer, and in Cameroon and Nigeria.

In response to consumer pressure and calls by members of the U.S. Congress for a ban on chocolate imports linked to forced child labor, two of the cocoa industry's largest groups-the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association-forged a voluntary plan of action, the Harkin-Engle Protocol. The Protocol obliged the industry to undertake specific activities to combat labor exploitation in West Africa. The centerpiece of the agreement was the industry's pledge to develop a system for certifying cocoa products as child-and forced-labor free by July 2005. The ILO and NGOs, such as Free the Slaves and the Child Labor Coalition, supported the Protocol and signed it as witnesses.

To develop the certification system, the cocoa industry attempted to identify specific farms using child and forced labor. With an estimated two million cocoa farms in West Africa, most of them family-owned and averaging less than five acres, this task proved daunting and time intensive. In addition, a rebel uprising in 2002 in Cote d'Ivoire divided the country into a rebel-controlled North and government-led South and unleashed widespread violence, hindering access by outside researchers. In July 2005, the industry had not successfully met its obligation to develop a certification system. Industry leaders met again with Senator Harkin and Congressman Engle to set a new deadline-July 2008-for a certification system that would cover 50 percent of all cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. In 2008, the world's attention will be on the cocoa industry, with expectations of progress.

Products Made With Slave Labor

A significant share of the exploitation in modern-day slavery is linked to the production of products for export. Increased attention has been paid over the last year to some of these, including "blood diamonds" mined by child soldiers in West Africa and sugar cane harvested by forced child laborers in the Caribbean. Of particular concern for the U.S. Government are products allegedly made by forced labor and exported to the United States.

Profits from using forced labor can be very lucrative for labor-intensive businesses. These exploitative commercial entities are as guilty of trafficking in persons as the organized crime boss who sells women into the commercial sex trade. Hiding behind legal and legitimate facades of business and trade, they often succeed in profiting from the exploitation of people desperate for work. Only through greater research, consumer and stakeholder activism, and aggressive enforcement of legislation such as the Tariff Act can a deterrent effect be realized.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the entry into the United States of any product made in whole or in part by slave or forced labor. The following are two such examples of suspected U.S. imports that came to light this past year.

Brazilian Pig Iron
Despite the Brazilian government's vigorous and increased efforts to tackle slave labor, including its public release of a "dirty list" every two years exposing companies that use slave labor, thousands of forced laborers continue to toil for little or no pay in remote areas of Amazonian Brazil to produce charcoal for the smelting of pig iron that may be exported to the United States. Although most of the 14 major pig iron producers in Brazil have taken the admirable step of forging a voluntary, self-policing mechanism to bar slave-produced charcoal from entering their production chain, many independent charcoal producers continue to rely on slave labor. Brazilian pig iron, some of which reportedly has been smelted using charcoal produced by slave labor, enters the U.S. steel production chain and emerges as a multitude of finished commodities, including cars, tractors, sinks and refrigerators. Some of the same companies publicly identified as exporting pig iron to the United States are also publicly cited on the Government of Brazil's "dirty list" Web site as using charcoal produced with slave labor.

Thai Shrimp
In Thailand, information surfaced over the past year that forced labor is a significant factor in the processing and packaging of seafood by some Thai exporters. A September 2006 raid on a shrimp-processing factory south of Bangkok found 800 Burmese men, women and children in slave-like conditions; the factory had exported a shipment of shrimp to the United States several years ago. Related investigative media and NGO reports revealed that many other factories processing Thai seafood for export, including to the United States, rely on forced adult and child labor.

The Plight of the Burmese

Trafficking research around the world has identified populations that are vulnerable to trafficking based on gender, age, and economic conditions. Research has also identified particular ethnic groups or sub-populations within a country that are prone to being trafficked. One that stands out in terms of magnitude and severity is the plight of the Burmese.

Burmese girls and women, particularly those from ethnic minorities in the border regions of the country, have been leaving Burma in the hopes of economic opportunities in neighboring countries since the early 1990s. With economic conditions in Burma worsening, this trend has continued and now ethnic Burman females appear to be trafficked in significant numbers both within the country and to neighboring countries.

Within Burma, men and women of ethnic groups face forced labor at the hands of the ruling military regime, which is responsible for a significant share of the 2,186,000 victims of state imposed forced labor in the Asia-Pacific region, as estimated by the ILO in 2005. Pushed by this reality and sustained poor economic conditions in Burma, over a million Burmese have fled in search of better lives. 400,000 Burmese men and women sought low-skilled work in neighboring Thailand; NGOs believe up to 100,000 undocumented Burmese adults work in the Thai seafood and fishing industry alone. From research done in 2006 by the ILO, a significant share of these Burmese migrant workers are exploited in conditions of servitude. Similarly, reports have surfaced of Burmese subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in construction, agriculture, fishing, and domestic work sectors in countries throughout the region.

To date, government policies on refugees and migrant workers have failed to address the needs of Burmese trafficking victims. The UN Protocol on TIP calls on governments to protect foreign victims of trafficking, including legal alternatives to the removal of these victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution. While the hardship and retribution Burmese victims face if they were returned to Burma is readily apparent, no government has granted Burmese trafficking victims long-term residency. Greater government efforts need to be made to protect this highly vulnerable group of victims.

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