This research investigates the use of ICTs to assist potential victims of human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of labor exploitation to identify themselves to frontline responders and enhance their conditions. Following a pilot study in Thailand, it also seeks to create policy recommendations for more rigorous processes of victim identification.
Thailand, one of the largest economies in the Mekong sub-region, is hailed as the land of opportunities by those living in the neighboring Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Its rapid urbanization has generated a constant demand for cheap labor, which is met by workers migrating to urban and semi-urban Thailand from its neighboring countries or from rural Thailand. This mismatch in the labor market gives rise to a conducive environment for exploitative working conditions.
The extent of the problem related to human trafficking and forced labor is clouded by the lack of reliable data on the number of victims. The most conservative estimates of forced labor and human trafficking statistics indicate that there are almost 21 million people in situations of forced labor or human trafficking, with a large number of these being migrant workers. The US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report illustrates that in 2017, only 0.3% of the total estimated victims were identified (66,520 people). These exploitative work situations are able to exist due to a number of reasons, including poor regulation and enforcement of labor standards across the labor market. Local and federal police, as well as labor inspectors, are tasked with the role of ensuring that cases of labor exploitation are firstly identified and then dealt with (typically using penalties for exploiters and recompense for victims). In Thailand, the state actors (local and federal police, labour inspectors) work with non-state partners including social workers, inter-governmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations to assess working conditions, to help potential victims become aware of and gain access to social services, complaint mechanism, and support (for example emergency shelters, legal representation).
RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODS
To understand how ICTs can be leveraged to support potential victims, this research aims to answer the following questions:
- How do NGOs and frontline responders currently identify victims of human trafficking, and what problems do they believe there are in this method?
- What access do potential victims, NGOs, and frontline responders have to ICTs, and what factors enable and constrain their use?
- What ICT tools would enable migrant workers to self-identify as a victim of human trafficking?
This research uses an iterative approach, following the basic flow of needs assessment, technology development, monitoring and evaluation, and then subsequent redesign. For the pilot investigation, the target group consists of local non-governmental organizations that work with migrant workers in vulnerable situations in Thailand.
We sought to understand the problems that frontline responders currently face in identifying victims, and how they believe technology can be used to support this process. So we undertook four consultation sessions with over 100 stakeholders representing: migrant workers in vulnerable situations; local and regional NGOs; Thai Government; Royal Thai Navy; regional embassies; and inter-governmental institutions.
On identifying the major problems Thai frontline responders encounter in their identification process, we designed a simple mobile phone application for a frontline responder’s phone, to allow them to communicate essential information with the frontline responders.
We are partnering with various Thai NGOs working with victims of trafficking. Forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced begging to pilot this application. The pre-pilot phase (March-May 2018) will be used to gather feedback from the partners and would then be used to release the second iteration of the application for a longer pilot phase (mid – 2018). We are also conducting capacity-building training sessions on the usage of this application with the frontline responders of these NGOs.
We aim to inform policy and best practices for identification of victims of trafficking and forced labor in Thailand, as a long-term outcome. Current practices are found to be lacking in many aspects leading to significant under-identification of victims. With the findings from this research, we aim to inform government policy on potential ways to improve the current methods as well as potential pitfalls to avoid.
As part of the migrant technology project, this activity looks at the themes of human dignity and physical integrity in the problem of human trafficking and forced labor in Thailand, and how ICTs can empower migrant workers in such unfavorable forms of work. By providing workers with access to information about the situation they are in, based on their responses to our questions, we provide an objective assessment of the vulnerability of their situation according to the Thai legal framework. By providing them the ability to express their desire to leave their exploitative job, after being informed of the vulnerability, we empower them to exercise their agency and physical integrity to take steps to better their situation.
- Thinyane, H. (2017) “How can human trafficking front line responders use technology?” Trust News, 30 May 2017
- Thinyane, H. (2017) “Role of ICTs in safeguarding migrant workers“, 17th European Conference on Digital Government; Mini Track on Data for Societal Challenges. Lisbon, Portugal, 12-13 June.
Human Trafficking, ICTs, Self Identification