Thai government panders to US anti-trafficking policy, ignores changes in Entertainment Industry

It’s June, formerly a month I had pleasant feelings about but now the time when the US government issues its imperialist TIP report card to Rest of World about their anti-trafficking behaviour (see Institutionalised Arrogance). You may remember that Empower recently released a research report on the state of the Thai entertainment industry in which they said Anti-trafficking rescues are our biggest problem. Now, in anticipation of the next TIP report, they have issued an open letter to the prime minister. I asked them for a little clarification of one term that might be unfamiliar to readers: green harvest – see after the letter for that. And for an unusually nice report about Empower see 25 years in Thailand’s sex industry.

Open Letter to The Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Thailand from Empower

On the occasion of 5th June 2012, National Anti-Human Trafficking Day, Empower alleges that successive Thai governments have sacrificed the rule of law, their international human rights obligations and the well-being of migrant sex workers and their families in an attempt to please the US government and satisfy the American anti-trafficking agenda.

We accuse the United States government of using the issue of human trafficking to coerce its allies into tightening border and immigration controls. The US agenda has also created a climate where women crossing borders are all seen as suspect ‘victims’ of trafficking. Recently on the 21st February 2012 Empower released an in-depth research report, Hit & Run, done by sex workers, which clearly identifies how the State is breaching rule of law and police procedure while arresting wrong people.

Even though Thai governments have tried hard to appease the USA, Thailand remains on a ‘Tier 2 watch list’ and risks being further downgraded in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), due for release later this month. Empower sees the Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the US State Department as subjective and biased against the Thai Entertainment Industry in particular.

Furthermore Empower says the Thai government has so far failed to recognize the many improvements the Entertainment Industry has undergone in the last decade. The old days of the ‘green harvest’ and locked brothels are over. In the modern context, sex work is similar to other jobs. Exploitation in the industry is an issue of access to identity and work documents, labor rights and occupational health and safety. These are labor and human rights issues, not police or criminal issues.

Society is all too familiar with media images of uniformed police, fully armed, storming Entertainment Places and apprehending young unarmed women. Women desperately try to hide their faces; sometimes the women are naked and not even given time to cover themselves. The women and girls never fight back; most don’t even dare to think about trying to run away and not one woman or girl has ever been found carrying a weapon. These events were commonly shown in the media well before the new human trafficking hysteria. The image of a hero or rescuer has now been added to the scene. . . it’s all very exciting.

However society never sees or hears of what happens after the rescue. Society is not told that the women are put through a range of unnecessary medical tests regardless of consent or their human dignity. They don’t know that women have been detained against their will for over a year in government shelters. No one knows about the pain and suffering brought about by the separation from children and family. Who could imagine that the women, who are the main family providers, are not compensated in any way by the State, and given just 3,000 Baht, (about 200 Baht per month) from private anti trafficking fund when they are eventually forcibly and formally deported?

Under the law there are provisions for social assistance but in reality the focus is on punishment. Little wonder women escape from their rescuers when they can. Police enforcement of the law using raids encourages violence. We suggest that instead of continuing costly, and ultimately useless ‘raids and rescue’ missions, it is time Thailand resisted being bullied by foreign governments and instead worked to ensure migrant sex workers’ access to documentation and fair working conditions in entertainment places.

Today Empower Foundation is calling on the Prime Minister of The Royal Government of Thailand to:

  • Review the practices of the Anti-Trafficking Act in relation to the protection of human rights and the rule of law.
  • Stop using sex workers as scapegoats in foreign policy and other political games.
  • Stop police entrapment which contravenes police policy.
  • Stop raids on entertainment places which are violent actions usually reserved for apprehending dangerous criminals.
  • Stop arbitrary detention of sex workers.
  • Protect the human rights of women arrested or assisted under the Anti trafficking Act and ensure they receive the full entitlements according to the Act – e.g. translation, legal representation, compensation.
  • Work together to promote accurate information about the modern context of sex work in Thailand to all agencies involved in anti-trafficking.

The letter has been endorsed by:
Sex workers of Krabi, Sex workers of Phuket, Sex workers of Samut Sakon, Sex workers of Nontaburi, Sex workers of Chiang Mai, Sex workers of Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Sex workers of Mae Sot, Tak, Sex workers of Mukdahan, Sex workers of Ubon Rachatani, Sex workers of Udon Thani, Sex workers of Pattaya, Chonburi, Sex workers of Soi Cowboy, Bangkok, Sex workers of Soi Nana,  Bangkok, Sex workers of Patpong, Bangkok.

Copies to:
National Human Rights Commission, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Department of Special Investigations (AHTD), Office of the Attorney General – Public Prosecutor, Ministry of Justice, United Nations Interagency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP)

On green harvest in brief: After World War II the military (with US support) expanded into rural areas. Some corrupt military personnel began offering to take young girls and women to work in the cities, and families in desperate need accepted money in exchange. These debts carried to the workplace; if that was a brothel it would take about three years to pay back the loan at grossly inflated interest rates in conditions of forced labour (no pay and no freedom of movement.) This practice was the norm until about 1999, affecting especially mountain villages of ethnic minorities and later neighbouring Burma and Lao. The point Empower makes is green harvest is no longer the norm.

I would add that the non-recognition of change – cultural, social, economic – in countries the USA pretends to help constitutes imperialism. Keep the natives down by keeping them ‘primitive’.

A report from 2003 entitled Cultural, Economic and Legal factors Underlying Trafficking in Thailand and their impact on women and girls from Burma, by Christa Crawford, was republished in 2009 in Thailand Law Journal.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

2 thoughts on “Thai government panders to US anti-trafficking policy, ignores changes in Entertainment Industry

  1. Maxine Doogan

    Great letter-go Empower!
    I would say the US’s idea of cultural sensitivity is to facilitate oppression to maintain primitive living and working conditions.


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