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The State Department trafficking office does extensive work monitoring human trafficking and forced labor around the world and providing assistance to governments that stand willing to tackle these terrible abuses.
On the whole, this year’s trafficking report accurately reflects and critiques the record of countries around the world in addressing human trafficking and forced labor, unlike the report issued last year, which was marred by strong indications of political interference.
Human Rights Watch is pleased to see that Uzbekistan has been moved back to Tier 3, the lowest level on the State Department’s ranking system. The government, which runs a massive forced labor enterprise to compel citizens to take part in the country’s cotton industry, in particular during the harvest season, has done very little over the last year to demonstrate a willingness to end this abusive system. We call on the US government to invoke this downgrade and sanction the government in Tashkent for their failure to make progress on forced labor. The US government should also use their voice and vote at international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to prevent financing for Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.
There were problematic parts of the report.
Thailand, a country with a massive, highly vulnerable migrant population and extensive problems with human trafficking and forced labor, particularly in the seafood sector, was given an upgrade it didn’t yet deserve. While the Thai government has made progress in some areas, and carried out some legal reforms, it has largely failed to implement anti-trafficking laws, act against corrupt and abusive police and other officials, and end recruitment systems that deliver migrants into debt bonded labor, and the small efforts made in these areas were insufficient to address the scope of the problem. Simply put, the steps taken were positive but not significant enough yet to trigger an upgrade. The US government will need to pressure Thailand further to redouble efforts and prevent backsliding now that Bangkok’s goal of an upgrade has been achieved.
Malaysia, which was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List last year, in a highly politicized process widely believed to be connected to Malaysia’s involvement the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should have been moved back to the lowest tier in this year’s report. The State Department’s decision to maintain their Tier Two Watch List ranking is a huge disappointment, given the absence of any significant or meaningful efforts to tackle human trafficking by the Malaysian government.
The State Department’s annual trafficking report is an important tool for the US government to compel countries with poor anti-trafficking records to undertake key reforms, but unless it is used as intended by the law that mandates it, it will only make modest contributions at best to addressing the scourge of forced labor and modern day slavery.
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