The Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma) are a persecuted minority. Thai seafood is marked by modern slavery. Will recent news affect the 2015 TIP Report?
It’s been quite a year. Human trafficking has been all over the news. Recently, we’ve heard a lot about the Rohingya in Southeast Asia, who are living on boats because xenophobia and racism make living on land impossible. But the story isn’t quite as new as it seems: the treatment of the Rohingya in Burma was called a “humanitarian crisis” by Human Rights Watch as early as 2013. In April, the news was flooded with news of slavery in the Thai fishing industry, a saga which continues. Today, in fact, a top military official in Thailand was arrested on human trafficking charges. The call for Thailand to end slavery in its fishing industry has actually gone back years, and one the TIP Heroes featured on this site was enslaved on a Thai fishing boat in 2006, and escaped in 2010.
With so much going on, and the 2015 TIP Report about to be released, a lot of people are asking question about what’s going to happen to various countries’ rankings this year. Everything below is just speculation, but let’s begin with some general principles that will help us figure out what may or may not happen in the 2015 TIP Report.
A Couple Things to Remember about how the TIP Report works
1) The TIP Report’s reporting period ends in March. This could cause a discrepancy in regards to the news we are hearing today versus the ranking of a country in the 2015 TIP Report. The crisis of the Rohingya certainly affects our opinions of the ways that Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia deal with human trafficking, but the Rohingya crisis has only come out in the past couple months. That means that it will not be dealt with in the 2015 TIP Report, although the Rohingya may be pointed to as an abused ethnic minority. Similarly, the Associated Press’ story about the Thai fishing industry was published on March 25. That is just at the end of the reporting period. However, due to the fact that Thailand was downgraded in 2014 to Tier 3 specifically because of slavery in the fishing industry, it is unlikely that the seafood industry will not be mentioned.
2) As the current framework of the TIP Report, there are four tiers. We don’t have to list them all, but the bottom two tiers deserve special notice. The Tier 2 Watch List is not meant to be a permanent determination. Countries can exist on one of the other tiers as long as they would like, but a country on the Tier 2 Watch List faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest tier which CAN come with some non-trade and non-aid sanctions. That automatic downgrade happens after they have been on the Tier 2 Watch List for two years consecutively, unless they are able to improve and raise their ranking to a Tier 2 country.
The Predictions: Malaysia and Thailand
Keeping those two caveats in mind, let’s take a look at the countries that have been on the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years: Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Comoros, Angola, Djibouti, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Marshall Islands, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uruguay. Of those, Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Comoros, Angola, Djibouti, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Namibia, South Sudan, Suriname, and Turkmenistan have been on the Tier 2 Watch List for three years. Only Belarus, Burundi, Angola, and Comoros have been on the Tier 2 Watch List for four or more years. Afghanistan, Albania, Barbados, Chad, Honduras, Liberia, Maldives, Micronesia, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago were able to raise their status to a Tier 2 country in the 2014 TIP Report, but that does not mean they won’t fall back down this year, depending on their record.
Earlier we mentioned both Malaysia and Thailand. Both were downgraded in 2014 from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. There’s a pretty good likelihood that Thailand will stay on Tier 3, but Malaysia may actually rise to Tier 2. Recently, the US Secretary of State for Population, Migration, and Refugees Anne C. Richard made a point to say that the handling of the Rohingya crisis would not affect Malaysia’s ranking in the 2015 TIP Report due to that event being outside of the reporting period. Their ranking will therefore depend on whether Malaysia was able to increase prosecutions or victim services between March 2014 and March 2015. However, Malaysia and the US have both been involved in heavy trade negotiations over the past year for what is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations have been difficult. Although various rights groups and a senator have called for Malaysia to be excluded from the treaty due to their poor human rights record of late, President Obama has declared his support for Malaysia’s inclusion in the treaty. This is relevant for the following reason: even if Malaysia stays on Tier 3, it is highly unlikely that the US would actually impose any type of permissible sanction on the country, because that could upset diplomatic relations.
Keep following the blog as we continue to provide predictions, focusing on the countries that are currently on the Tier 2 Watch List. Also, remember to follow us at @TIPheroes on twitter for our #BeAHero Campaign where we highlight one Hero a day!
Caleb Benadum is the Program Manager for the Trafficking in Persons Report Global Heroes Network, an upcoming web-based project planned for January 2015. 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.