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Proposed Thai law threatens CSOs combating human trafficking, says civil societies

Dozens of worker rights and human rights organizations released a letter expressing deep concern regarding Thailand’s draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations.

Photo from https://shiptoshorerights.org/

If enacted, this Council of State drafted law would pose serious threats to the functioning of Thai civil society as well as have a deeply damaging impact on both donors and international non-governmental organizations working to address human trafficking and improve labor rights in Thailand. For this reason, the signatories called on the U.S. State Department, and in particular the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, to strongly advocate for the Thai government to withdraw this bill.

In response, JJ Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-IRLF) said:   

“The passage of this draft law would be a direct threat to the ability of NGOs to prevent and combat forced labor in Thailand. Civil society groups have been key in ending efforts to end the exploitation of migrant workers on Thai fishing boats, seafood factories, and other parts of the Thai economy where they face exploitation and abuse and to demanding corporate accountability and compliance with international labor standards.”

In response, Papop Siamhan, Director, Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) said:   

“The passing of this law would represent a clear breach of human rights principles, particularly freedom of association and participatory democracy, as it provides government officials with the power to control the work of civil society organizations. The government would not propose this law if they truly understood and respected the principles of democracy. Civil society organizations play an important role in constructive criticism of government policies on human trafficking. The creation of a law regulating the work of NGOs will undoubtedly serve as a tool for the government to silence NGOs. As a result, crucial information about the real state of human trafficking will remain non-disclosed.”

Response from Sawit Kaevwarn, General Secretary, State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC): 

“The Draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E. … directly affects civil society. SERC disagrees and opposes the said draft Act. It restricts the right to unite and gives the state power to fully control the operations of non-profit organizations. The Government already has power and laws to use as a tool to examine organizations. This Act was written with the intention to undermine the participation of civil society and is a provision that is contrary to freedom of association. Its adoption will affect non-profit organizations, including labor unions.”

Response from Phil Robertson, Deputy Director for Asia, Human Rights Watch: 

“If this draft law passes, it will put Thai officials in the driver’s seat to run over the NGOs and migrant worker assistance groups who are the best sources of information about how Thailand fails to effectively tackle human trafficking and the continuous exploitation of vulnerable Thais and migrants. As a leading light in global efforts to end human trafficking, the US government needs to stand up to defend Thai civil society groups who will face retaliation for their truth-telling about corrupt officials, abusive employers, and deceptive and dirty supply chains. This draft law is an existential threat against NGOs operating in Thailand and needs to be taken very seriously.”

This initiative was led by the Seafood Working Group (SWG). The SWG is a global coalition of labor, human rights and environmental organizations coordinating to end forced labor in the seafood industry, convened by Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF)

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