BANGKOK, THAILAND —
Thailand has asked the United States to reconsider its placing of the kingdom in the bottom tier of an annual report on human trafficking, a ranking that could potentially prompt sanctions.
The State Department report, released Friday, demoted Thailand, Malaysia, Gambia and Venezuela to Tier 3, the lowest category, joining such states as Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.
Being placed on the Tier 3 blacklist could prompt sanctions or make multinational companies hesitant to invest in a country accused of not sufficiently fighting against trafficked labor.
American diplomats characterize the Thai government's approach to fighting human trafficking as being full of promises but short on results. The government had “demonstrated few efforts to address these trafficking crimes," the State Department said.
But Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the country doesn't deserve the ranking.
“I do know that Thailand is doing better, much better, than the other countries in that category," Sihasak said. "I'm sure you can vouch for that, also. Does that reflect where Thailand stands? Does that provide the kind of support, encouragement for us to continue doing what we've been doing? So I ask United States whether Thailand should be in that category.”
The government, which was taken over by the military in a coup a month ago, will ask Washington to reconsider its assessment of Thailand and re-evaluate the “tangible progress” made in the past year, he said.
“We don't believe that it is right for one country to use its own yardstick to evaluate what another country is doing or the performance of another country in terms of dealing with this problem," Sihasak said.
Thailand has faced considerable scrutiny, accused of being what some activists term a hub of human slavery.
International media investigations over the past year have alleged barbaric conditions for workers sold to Thailand's shrimp fishing fleets.
Pulitzer Prize-winning articles by the Reuters news agency accused Thailand's navy of being involved in trafficking Rohingya Muslims escaping from persecution in neighboring Myanmar (also known as Burma).
Journalists and researchers in Thailand who expose such abuses, which also extend to the agriculture sector, for years have faced threats of violence, lawsuits and criminal charges.