The TIP Report's Dreaded Tier 3

July 09, 2015 Caleb Benadum Opinion 
News, Policy Making

© Manogamos, Algunas… “A Soldier took me away for Taking this Shot” (Flickr) (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The TIP Report’s third tier is reserved for countries who “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” Twenty-three countries made the bottom tier in 2014; how many will make it this year? Did anybody improve? Will any countries be finally freed from the stigma of a Tier 3 ranking? 

In the 2014 TIP Report, Thailand and Malaysia were downgraded to a Tier 3 ranking. You may not remember it, but that decision was followed with a fair amount of press. The Malaysian Insider called it a“damning statement on the Malaysian Government’s poor efforts in this regard.” The Guardian speculated about companies blacklisting Thailand as a “’pariah’ government.” Sanctions were called for, and civil society applauded. Several reports had been released in spring 2014 that provided condemning evidence about the Thai seafood industry (although that hasn’t seemed to improve conditions, based on the recent media coverage and the March AP Report).

They weren’t alone. Two other countries, The Gambia and Venezuela, were also downgraded to a Tier 3 Ranking. There is a stigma to being ranked Tier 3. More than that, it also comes with automatic non-trade, non-aid sanctions, unless waived. Some countries have spent years on the Tier 3 list, and some have slowly slid down as a result of nonperformance and an automatic downgrade. Today, we’ll cover some of the countries we think have a possibility of getting out of Tier 3, and hopefully improving their human trafficking record.

First, let’s recap. There are currently twenty three countries that are ranked in Tier 3. Four of those were automatic downgrades in 2014. Nineteen of those have been on the list for over a year. Uzbekistan and Russia suffered automatic downgrades from the Tier 2 Watch List in 2013, and Syria was placed in Tier 3 in 2012. Sixteen countries, therefore, have been ranked in Tier 3 since 2011. Ten of those have been on the list since 2010 or earlier. For the sake of time and space, this post will focus on countries who have only been placed in Tier 3 since 2012, including Syria. We’ll also cover one special case: Cuba.

A Quick Note on the Old-Timers: Countries in Tier 3 since Pre-2011

As everyone knows, the TIP Report is a bit of a ‘name and shame’ game. But, seemingly, it works. Its efficacy has been proven over and over again. Government officials around the world are interested in, at the least, keeping their country off of the third tier. The shame, and the threat of sanctions, provides the motivation. But then there’s a list of countries that have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for years. They haven’t improved, and they likely won’t in the foreseeable future without specific circumstances or pressure. Why? What characterizes an ‘old-timer’ Tier 3 country?

When we turn to the list, we do see a couple usual suspects. Iran and North Korea, for example, don’t care much for their human rights record in general. Saudi Arabia is similar, although the U.S. maintains friendly relations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been racked by civil war and internal conflict for decades. The Central African Republic (CAR) has been enmeshed in its own internal conflict since 2010, and the rule of law is non-existent. The criminal court in the capital city of Bangui has not held a session since 2010. Both the DRC and the CAR have had problems with armed rebel groups that utilize children in armed conflict, and the current estimate is that there are 6,000 to 10,000 child soldiers in the CAR today.

Then there’s the countries who suffer because of authoritarian rule. North Korea would fit into this category, but so would countries like Eritrea and Zimbabwe. The UN recently released a report on Eritrea which stated: “It is not the law that rules in Eritrea—but fear.” Mandatory conscription in Eritrea can last longer than eight years, and is often unpaid. Zimbabwe is run by Mugabe, a de facto autocrat who refuses to comply with international standards almost as a rule. The last broad category I’ll paint is this: the countries who don’t seem to care. This often will overlap with countries that suffer from a low rule of law, or countries that have ineffective, corrupt or authoritarian rules. Countries like Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, or Papua New Guinea. Mauritania has been ranked as Tier 3 every year, but for different reasons: the practice of slavery remains common and rampant because of culturally sanctioned norms.

The Countries of Interest: Will They Make it Off the List?

The Gambia:

The Gambia was on the Tier 2 Watch List for three consecutive years prior to their automatic downgrade in 2014. They received the downgrade because they did not prosecute any offenders, and had not for years. Furthermore, very limited efforts were made towards victim protection. This year, Gambia is unlikely to see an upgrade. Serious corruption has been a problem in every strata of the government, and a journalist who published an article highlighting the Gambia’s TIP Report downgrade was subsequently harassed and threatened by the police in July 2014. The rule of law is low, and further law enforcement efforts this year are unlikely.


Millions of foreign workers reside in Russia, and are vulnerable to exploitation, as well as Russian citizens. A focus in the 2013 TIP Report, and speculatively one of the reasons Russia was placed in Tier 3, was the forced labor reported by Human Rights Watch surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This last year, the world watched as Russia invaded the Crimea, and continues to occupy parts of the Ukraine. Due to this, their response to the international criticism, and lack of further action this year on human trafficking, they’ll most likely stay in Tier 3. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see if the 2018 World Cup (if it is still to be held in Russia after the recent scandal) will provoke further labor abuses.

© Sasha Maksymenko “Ukraine Separatists Crisis Slovyansk ATO” (Flickr) (CC-BY-NC)


Syria’s ranking is unfortunately not that much of a mystery. The Syrian civil war began in 2011, and has claimed several hundred thousand lives. Millions more have fled the conflict, ending up on European shores or in refugee camps in other African countries. The use of child soldiers has been documented. The civil war continues, the rule of law remains low and refugees continue to flee the situation—therefore, Syria will remain in Tier 3.


Uzbekistan is an interesting case. For years, their cotton harvest has been cited as a pre-eminent example of forced labor and child labor. But in the fall of 2013 Uzbekistan allowed the ILO, for the first time, to monitor the harvest. The government also effectively enforced the ban on forcing children under 15 to leave school for the cotton harvest. However, this year a German NGO, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, published a report detailing widespread and systematic abuses in the fall 2014 harvest. The report alleged that one million people had been forced to labor in the cotton fields under extremely harsh conditions. While the government may have forced less children, the report argued they compensated with public services workers leaving the country without health workers and teachers. Due to the press that received, it is doubtful that Uzbekistan will make it off Tier 3 in 2015. (Check out our Uzbekistan Heroes here: Natalya Abdullaeva, and Nodira Karimova).


Venezuela was ranked as Tier 3 because it was unable to provide a written plan, and did not show adequate improvement in prosecution of offenders or identification of victims. Although there has been little to no media coverage in the past year of Venezuela’s human trafficking problem, the country is in an economic free-fall. One of the most vocal political opponents was jailed last year, amid protests. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world, and the price of oil, their major export, has fallen drastically. Amid such a serious financial and political crisis, it is unlikely that Venezuela will have been able to substantially improve their record.

A Special Case: Why Cuba Just Might Make It off Tier 3 

© Bryan Jones “Sunset in Havana, Cuba” (Flickr) (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Cuba has been ranked as a Tier 3 country for almost a decade. But the 2014 to 2015 reporting season saw a change in the world: the restoration of U.S.-Cuban relations. It is only in the last couple years that Cuba has provided information for the TIP Report, but the challenges that they face include a government-sponsored program that seems to allow for a significant amount of forced labor. Prostitution is also a prominent issue in Havana. Despite this, our prediction is that Cuba will get bumped up to Tier 2 or the Tier 2 Watchlist this year. There’s a couple reasons. Human trafficking has been included in many of the diplomatic conversations that have been happening between the U.S. and Cuba in the past year. Providing a bump up shows good faith, and provides encouragement to the Cuban government to make efforts to combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way, even in geopolitics.

Check back in next week for some more predictions about the 2015 TIP Report! Also, stay in touch with our #BeAHero Campaign on twitter, where we highlight one TIP Hero a day! Follow the site at

This article was originally posted at TIP Report Global Heroes Network.

Topics: News, Policy Making

About the Author

Caleb Benadum

Caleb Benadum was previously the Program Manager for the Trafficking in Persons Report Global Heroes Network. He graduated from Capital University with a degree in Philosophy, and the University of Cincinnati Law School with a Juris Doctor degree. Having spent much of his life overseas, he is committed to modern-day abolitionism and the promotion of human rights around the world.