The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, U.S. sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.
The upgrade to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal.
A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.
I wonder if there has been any news out of Malaysia recently on its human trafficking problem?
Lawmakers are working on a compromise that would let Malaysia and other countries appearing on a U.S. black-list for human trafficking participate in fast-tracked trade deals if the administration verified that they have taken concrete steps to address the most important issues identified in the annual trafficking report.The graves were found in an area long known for the smuggling of Rohingya and local villagers reported seeing Rohingya in the area, but Malaysia’s Deputy Home (Interior) Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has said it was unclear whether those killed were illegal migrants. The discovery took place after the March cut-off for the U.S. report.
The State Department would have needed to show that Malaysia had neither fully complied with minimum anti-trafficking standards nor made significant efforts to do so to justify keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, which can lead to penalties such as the withholding of some assistance.
In its report last year, the State Department said Malaysia had reported 89 human-trafficking investigations in the 12 months to March 2014, down from 190 the previous year, and nine convictions compared with 21 the previous year.
In the latest year to March, Malaysia’s conviction rate is believed to have fallen further, according to human-rights advocates, despite a rise in the number of investigations. That reinforced speculation Malaysia would remain on Tier 3.
“If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who had pushed to bar Tier 3 countries from inclusion in the trade pact.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said he was “stunned” by the upgrade.
“They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face,” he said. “This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the U.S. Congress to look long and hard at who was making the decisions on such an upgrade.” Malaysia has an estimated 2 million illegal migrant laborers, many of whom work in conditions of forced labor under employers and recruitment companies in sectors ranging from electronics to palm oil to domestic service.
Malaysia has done all it needed to do–become important to Obama’s trade agenda. At this point, it can use all the slave labor it wants, knowing Obama will do nothing. Promoting pharmaceutical companies’ rights for long monopolies over profitable medicines and allowing corporations to sue nations for raising their minimum wage or implementing new pollution controls is far more important than the human rights of migrant laborers in southeast Asia for this administration.