1. Hit and Run: The impact of anti-trafficking policy and practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand

Empower Foundation. Empower University Press, Thailand: 2012, pp.100.

Hit and Run is a combination of expert testimonies from sex and entertainment workers and a critique of the current anti-trafficking policies in Thailand. In this report, researchers present a number of anti trafficking laws and a critical analysis of how anti trafficking policy and especially practice are detrimental to meaningful solutions to reducing exploitation of people working in the sex industry. The narrative it aims to advance is that women currently working in the entertainment industry are continually mislabeled as trafficking victims, and because of this, have their rights continually violated through the coercive use of raids, forced medical procedures, and detention all in the name of rescue and rehabilitation.

The report begins with a message that research was conducted by and with sex workers lending credibility to the viewpoints. These researchers first and fore mostly assert that the current entertainment industry as well as sex work associated with it in Thailand is largely a form of employment that is undertaken with agency and not the product of trafficking as sensationalized media would have the world believe. The women in this industry find the claims of trafficking grossly overestimated. The subsequent misuse of raids, detention, and rehabilitation allowed by anti trafficking laws do not solve issues of exploitation as they criminalize women instead of addressing the problems through labor courts.

In addition to powerful testimonies, researchers engage with the many clauses and sections of anti trafficking policies and highlight how those very laws have been manipulated and improperly practiced to the detriment of sex workers who are not in fact trafficked but in actuality exercising agency in sex work. Of particular importance to the authors are highlighting how laws have been misused to violate people’s human rights in the name and agenda of abolishing prostitution. Anti-trafficking laws are used to give police authorities unconditional power to raid, coerce, and detain women.

A common experience that runs throughout the book is one where a club is raided, women are confused and scared, and then subsequently told that they are illegal, that they are underage, and that they are trafficked. Despite claiming otherwise, authorities detain them because they are believed to be underage, because they are witnesses to prostitution activity, or because they don’t have proper identification. These women are considered ‘rescued’ and made to stay in shelters for months at a time unable to contact family and unable to earn any wages during their detention.

The book is divided into 6 chapters. The first provides an overview of migration to Thailand and the modern context of sex work in the entertainment industry. It is based primarily on sex worker testimony and descriptive statistics. Chapter 2 details the various national and international laws that impact migrant workers. It argues that these laws are increasingly punitive and reduce workers agency. Chapter 3 examines problems in the definition of trafficking and how this ambiguity has far reaching effects on the protections and penalties afforded to migrants. Chapter 4 elaborates on the technical aspects of specific anti trafficking policies. Chapter 5 is the heart of the report, extensively discussing about the gap between policies and practices. In short anti trafficking laws have been used to stigmatize sex work, and thus making it more vulnerable to exploitation, as well as violating numerous human rights of these migrant women. Chapter 6 concludes the report by calling to attention the violations incurred. Human rights treaties, Thai national laws, and international anti trafficking standards have all been continuously violated in the name of abolishing sex work and reducing estimations of trafficking in Thailand.

2. War on Want, ‘Restricted Rights: Migrant women workers in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia’

Reiko Harima, Managing Director of Asian Migrant Centre, May 2012

Restricted Rights reports on the latest migration trends concerning migrant women workers in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Most migrant women workers in Cambodia are from within, whereas those in Thailand and Malaysia are largely from overseas including Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This report contains valuable and insightful up-to-date information from the field based on interviews with the workers. For those in Thailand and Malaysia, Burmese women living and working in the two countries were interviewed.

There are some differences in workers’ migration patterns and lived experiences. However, some notable key cross-cutting themes discussed are the factors that were drivers of the movement of these women workers, including: companies’ desire to pay their workers as low as possible to compete in the global market; and the women workers’ need for economic survival and safety from political oppression and persecution. In all three countries, the interviewees were from the manufacturing sector – specifically garment and electronics factories. Reflecting the diversity and complexity of migration in the region, the migration patterns noted in the report are economic, forced, rural-urban and cross-border.

The report recognises that employers’ exploitation of workers remains unchecked by national governments, and legal systems have failed to protect workers, particularly in terms of wage, working conditions and abuse from the employers. It is clear that in all three countries market needs trump labour laws and regulations, and in fact, often determine workers’ conditions. Also provided is the latest information on the activity of grassroots organizations advocating for the rights of migrant workers. Their challenges and successes are explained along with the names of organizations that are playing important roles. It is the voices of these groups that make this book particularly useful in strategising on further advocacy points.

In country-specific terms, the Cambodian case presents a unique set of issues within the context of rural-urban, internal migration. The Thai and Malaysian cases outline issues stemming from international migration frameworks (including laws, regulations and policies), which have unfortunately failed to ensure protection for migrant workers. Agencies and brokers who facilitate the movement of workers are noted as key players who seek to gain maximum benefits from migrants. In contrast, it is extremely difficult for migrant workers to speak out about their low wages, poor working conditions and employers’ abuses (such the holding of immigration documents), due to their fragile immigration status and lack of protection from arbitrary termination of contracts and/or deportation.The report presents an excellent overview of migration of women workers and their living and working conditions in three of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) member countries, where the economy heavily depends on the work of migrant workers, and presents a set of critical issues that demand more awareness and urgent action.

3. From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand (2010) by Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch’s report, aptly titled “From the Tiger to the Crocodile” after a Thai proverb, discusses distressing conditions and mistreatment of migrant workers in Thailand. The report carefully examines real-life examples of systematic human rights violations against migrant workers and recommends ways in which these could be addressed. Together with the local laws and regulations which migrant workers are subject to and often are abused by, the report also explores the Thai government’s obligations under international human rights instruments.

Taken from interviews with migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos conducted from 2008 to 2009, the case studies show the alarmingly widespread nature of the abuse that migrant workers experience. In this report, Human Rights Watch highlights how systematic and customary the abuse and mistreatment against migrant workers has become: provincial decrees formally restrict freedom of association, assembly, expression and movement; government regulations continue to make migrant workers vulnerable; and home governments maintain indifferent attitudes towards their own nationals’ struggles. Employers in Thailand continue to violate migrant workers’ labour rights, as the Thai government treats migrant workers as security concerns and does not respond to workers’ complaints. In fact, some allege the police to be part of the extortion as well as physical and sexual abuse against the migrant workers. The stories of kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation and extortion have become all too ubiquitous and familiar in the community.

One of the appendices includes a letter to the Thai government requesting a response to a series of questions regarding provincial decrees, migrant registration, abuses against migrant workers and international human rights treaties and standards. Further to the concerns raised in the letter, Human Rights Watch presents a set of comprehensive recommendations addressed to the Thai government and its relevant ministries; ASEAN; ILO; Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian governments; and lastly bilateral donor governments. The list of recommendations to the Thai government is extensive and yet essential in ensuring the migrant workers’ very basic rights: calling for establishing a national body to investigate and raise awareness on abuse of migrants with an ability to refer cases for prosecution; revoking anti-migrant provincial decrees; ending torture of migrants in custody; and amending the labor law to allow migrants to exercise their right to freedom of association to form their own unions.

This report is a culmination of comprehensive research into regional, national and international policy frameworks concerning migrant workers and provides a valuable insight into the life of migrant workers by allowing their own voices to come through.


4.Universal Periodical Review (UPR) Report on Human Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Dependants in Thailand, Civil Society Submission by Rakhs Thai, 2012

This report was submitted to the UPR, “A Joint Submission on Migrant Workers and Their Families in Thailand,” in February 2011, and was submitted as a coalition. The UPR report covers a broad variety of issues concerning migrants’ rights: migrant policies; labor rights protections; social security; migrants’ health and access to services; administration of justice; the right to life, liberty and security of the person; children’s health and security; statelessness and trafficking. The intention of this report is to draw attention to the fact that migrants’ fundamental rights are only partially granted in Thailand, and that this, in combination with a lack of meaningful rights protection mechanisms, is what renders migrant workers and their families vulnerable to a variety of rights violations.

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