| 28 May 2024, Tuesday |

Forced labor main human trafficking crime in Malaysia, U.S. says

The most common form of human trafficking in Malaysia is forced labor, according to the US State Department, which downgraded the Southeast Asian country to the lowest tier in its annual report on human trafficking on Friday.

Malaysia was ranked ‘Tier 3’ in this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report because it continued to conflate human trafficking with migrant smuggling offences, and failed to appropriately address or criminally pursue credible labor trafficking charges, according to the study.

Malaysia’s home ministry has not officially commented on the report and did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters on Friday.

In a teleconference with reporters, Acting Director of the State Department’s trafficking office Kari Johnstone said the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims in Malaysia are migrant workers, of which there are an estimated 2 million who are documented, and a greater number undocumented.

“The sectors primarily where we see the greatest forced labor – which is the predominant form of the crime within Malaysia – includes on palm oil and agriculture plantations, in construction sites, in the electronics, garment and rubber product industries,” said Johnstone.

The downgrade comes after a string of complaints by rights groups and U.S. authorities over alleged exploitation of migrant workers in plantations and factories.

Neighboring Thailand was downgraded to ‘Tier 2 Watchlist’ in the report, which found a high number of trafficking victims subjected to forced labor in the fishing and agriculture industry.

“Trafficking victims are also subjected to sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlors, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences,” Johnstone said.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry called the downgrade disappointing and said it does not fairly reflect significant efforts and progress it has made to combat human trafficking.

It said it has taken several measures, including granting workers from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar an extended period of stay during the coronavirus crisis.

“The TIP Report, after all, unilaterally makes an evaluation from the U.S’ very own view and by no means represents any international standard,” the ministry said in a statement.

Thailand has faced criticism from rights groups in recent months over a “bubble and seal” COVID-19 containment policy prohibiting migrant workers in factories and construction site from leaving their workplace during an outbreak.

  • Reuters