Cablegate: Embassy Urges Greater Rtg Effort On Labor

DE RUEHBK #5011/01 2620919
P 190919Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A


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1. (SBU) Summary: DCM and Emboffs voiced strong concern at
the lack of progress on labor trafficking cases in Thailand
in delivering reftel demarche to MFA DG for the Americas,
Nongnuth Phetcharatana. DCM advised MFA that Thailand's
record on labor trafficking threatens to overshadow continued
progress in other areas of TIP, and that an adverse change in
Thailand's 2008 TIP report tier ranking might result.
Serious labor trafficking cases should be addressed with
criminal rather than administrative penalties. As an
example, the DCM cited the Ranya Paew shrimp factory, which
remains open over a year after a police raid uncovered 800
Burmese migrants confined on the premises. Nongnuth replied
that the RTG would intensify interagency cooperation, saying
that the police and Ministry of Labor needed to be more
involved. The MFA is urging the Thai legislature to pass a
comprehensive anti-TIP law this year to criminalize
trafficking of male workers. Nongnuth suggested that she
meet with Ambassador Lagon in Washington in early October to
discuss further anti-trafficking cooperation with USG
agencies, an idea the Embassy supports. End Summary.

2. (SBU) DCM, accompanied by Econ Counselor and Laboff,
delivered reftel demarche points on September 17 to MFA
Director General for the Americas Division, Nongnuth
Phetcharatana. The DCM said he was interested in starting an
early and senior-level dialogue to address RTG and USG
anti-trafficking efforts well in advance of the 2008 TIP
report drafting cycle. He said forced labor, especially
among migrant workers, would again be a major focus of the
TIP report. The USG is itself seeking to combat labor TIP by
encouraging prosecutions and, where necessary, prison
sentences for those who employ workers under forced labor
conditions in the United States.

3. (SBU) The DCM noted Thailand's significant progress in
raising awareness and providing protection to victims with
regard to trafficking for sexual exploitation. It would be
regrettable, however, if continued instances of labor
trafficking overshadow the laudable progress that the RTG has
made in other areas. Although the annual TIP report strives
to objectively review each government's anti-TIP efforts in
their entirety, credible reports of labor trafficking in
Thailand may adversely impact Thailand's tier rating in the
2008 report. The DCM asked Nongnuth whether the RTG has made
progress in criminally prosecuting labor traffickers, rather
than imposing statutory fines or civil penalties, and asked
specifically for an update of the Ranya Paew shrimp factory
case, which has been languishing for a year since the
deplorable conditions at the factory were first discovered.

4. (SBU) Nongnuth said she appreciates having a discussion on
TIP at a senior level and welcomes the opportunity to start a
dialogue well in advance of the TIP report drafting period.
She noted that she leads an annual visit to Washington,
usually in February or March, to discuss TIP issues with
G/TIP and on Capitol Hill prior to the release of the report
each year. She agreed that more progress is needed in the
area of labor trafficking and that the TIP report has always
been viewed as a "wake-up call" for RTG agencies to address
areas where TIP is prevalent. The RTG fully understands the
strong interest in TIP matters on Capitol Hill and within the
State Department and other USG agencies charged with
implementing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

5. (SBU) Nongnuth said there remains an impression among Thai
ministries that overall RTG efforts to combat TIP are not
fully appreciated in Washington, and that some believed the
USG's relatively recent focus on labor trafficking should
provide more time for governments to adjust to new
benchmarks. She noted that some progress has been made to
encourage the Ministry of Labor to better regulate their
migrant worker programs, and that high-level MOL employees
visited Washington in March along with Nongnuth's MFA
delegation to describe current anti-trafficking efforts
regarding labor exploitation.

6. (SBU) Nongnuth voiced frustration that the Ranya Paew case
is proving to be time-consuming for the Royal Thai Police
(RTP) due to the need for translation of Burmese worker
accounts and the number of witnesses involved. She said the
MFA is continuing to follow up with the police to ensure the
judicial process worked smoothly. She noted the efforts of
Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) to
assist and shelter the workers and to repatriate those who
want to return to Burma. The Attorney General's office has
also established a new Center for Anti-Trafficking to
coordinate future prosecutions. MSDHS continues to make

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strides in victim identification and protection and their
accomplishments should be noted to ensure a more balanced
overview of the entire TIP situation in Thailand.

7. (SBU) Nongnuth said it would be useful for the Embassy to
continue its dialogue with the Ministry of Labor (MOL). She
stressed, however, that despite the apparent inaction of the
MOL in addressing TIP cases, it is important to seek a
partnership and avoid finger-pointing exercises. Nongnuth
said the MFA would work with the MOL to identify a senior
point of contact who could coordinate with us on labor
trafficking. Equally important, in her view, is the need to
raise the profile of trafficking cases with the acting
national police chief, as both the police and the MOL were
essential to investigating and prosecuting TIP cases.

8. (SBU) The DCM described the recent premiere of a
USAID-funded documentary by cable network MTV, which
highlights the involvement of Thai police and NGOs in
trafficking cases in Thailand and other Southeast Asian
countries. It is being distributed to Asian markets with
narration by local celebrities in several languages. The MTV
documentary includes an interview with a Burmese worker who
was rescued at the Ranya Paew factory. Noting that USG
sponsorship of the film showed an understanding of the
importance of the prevention side of the TIP issue, the DCM
asked Nongnuth whether we were reaching all of the major
players on TIP in the RTG, besides the MFA, MOL, MSDHS and
the Royal Thai Police.

9. (SBU) Nongnuth replied that the National Sub-Committee for
Protection of Women and Children, and various NGOs, are also
important players, and are heavily involved in drafting TIP
legislation and action plans to be implemented by RTG
ministries. She encouraged USG officials to include them in
our discussions on TIP activities. Laboff replied that the
Embassy has a long-standing relationship with Dr. Saisuree
Chutikul, the sub-committee's chair, and that she and several
NGOs had already advised us that they shared our concerns at
the seeming lack of progress on labor trafficking.

10. (SBU) The DCM noted the RTG's efforts to draft
comprehensive anti-trafficking law that would criminalize
labor trafficking and, for the first time, allow males to be
considered as trafficking victims. Stressing that it would
be a laudable and significant step if passed, the DCM asked
Nongnuth about the law's prospects for passage by the
National Legislative Assembly (NLA) before the end of the
year (and the forthcoming December 23 elections).

11. (SBU) Nongnuth responded that she knew the TIP law had
passed through the Council of State and been approved by the
Cabinet, and is one of several priority bills to be taken up
by the NLA once work on the organic laws required for
elections is completed. She said the MFA would urge the NLA
to make sure the TIP law is passed. Nongnuth suggested that
the MFA coordinate an RTG-wide meeting to include the major
anti-trafficking actors to obtain a status update and discuss
next steps on labor trafficking, which would then be conveyed
to the Embassy.

12. (SBU) The DCM said such a meeting would be useful, and
that a more formal interagency task force might enhance
cooperation between the ministries and law enforcement. He
noted that USG agencies similarly cooperate to combat labor
trafficking within the United States, including cases
involving Thai workers recruited under the H2A visa program.
Nongnuth said the RTG appreciates USG efforts to assist the
Thai workers in the U.S. and to penalize the recruitment
agencies that have abused the system. She added, however,
that she hopes this effort will not lead to a crackdown on
all labor recruitment for the U.S. market, as many Thai
workers benefit from guest worker programs that are properly

13. (SBU) Nongnuth closed by asking if it would be helpful
for her to travel to Washington in the October 3-5 period,
following her UNGA-related meetings in New York, to meet
Ambassador Lagon. The DCM said it would be an outstanding
opportunity for her to discuss TIP matters with G/TIP
directly, and that we would pass on the request.

14. (SBU) Comment: Despite DG Nongnuth's cooperative
attitude, it is apparent that the RTG is encountering
obstacles getting the police to move expeditiously on labor
TIP cases such as Ranya Paew. We've been told privately by
the Thai NGO working on the Ranya Paew case with the Attorney
General's office that the dossier forwarded by police last
month contained weak evidence, and that investigators had

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gone to great lengths to provide "witness" accounts
corroborating the factory owners' defense. As for the
Burmese victims, the excuse about translation difficulties a
year after the raid is not credible. The victims may yet get
financial compensation from an ongoing multi-million baht
civil suit that has been filed on their behalf, but putting
the factory owners on trial in a criminal court will continue
to be an uphill struggle.

15. (SBU) Comment Continued: We will continue to urge all
appropriate RTG elements to take action not just on the Ranya
Paew case but on the broader labor trafficking situation. We
think a meeting between Ambassador Lagon and DG Nongnuth
would be helpful in this regard as well.

© Scoop Media

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