Brunei on Tier 2 Watch List in US human trafficking report

Azlan Othman

Brunei Darussalam remained at Tier 2 Watch List status in the latest United States (US) government Trafficking in Persons Report for the second consecutive year. The US State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, launched last week has placed Brunei Darussalam on a “watch list” for not doing enough to tackle the problem.

The US Department of State releases the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report every year. The report evaluates country efforts against trafficking based on minimum standards in preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting offenders. Tier 1 is the highest level of compliance which indicates that the countries under Tier 1 have met the minimum standards in combatting trafficking.

The TIP Report annually evaluates 187 countries and territories and ranks them into four tiers (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3), with Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 the worst.

The report said the Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.

These efforts included passing the 2019 Anti Trafficking in Persons Order, which separated the crimes of migrant smuggling and human trafficking; formalising the government’s interagency anti-trafficking in persons committee within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO); instituting a committee to review foreign worker recruitment practices; ratifying the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons in January 2020; acceding to the United Nations (UN) TIP Protocol in March 2020; and continuing awareness raising campaigns for employers of foreign workers.

The government continued to detain, deport, and charge potential victims for crimes without employing a victim-centred approach to discern if traffickers compelled the victims to engage in the unlawful acts. The government continued not to provide shelter or services for adult male trafficking victims. Therefore Brunei remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

The report also prioritised recommendations including increasing efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labour traffickers and complicit government officials, with strong penalties.

Other recommendations include widely disseminating standard operating procedures for victim identification and train all frontline police, immigration, and labour officials on the procedures; finalise, approve, and implement the national action plan; increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by providing shelter to adult male victims, allowing adult victims in government shelters to move freely, allowing at-will communication with people outside shelter facilities, and issuing work permits to all victims and ensure migrant worker contracts and information on their rights and obligations under Brunei law are available in migrant workers’ primary language and that workers can retain a copy.

The report also said although Bruneian law prohibited employers from withholding wages more than seven days or retaining employees’ passports, foreign embassies continued to report their citizens commonly experienced both practices.

The labour Department provided workers with business cards containing the department’s hotline for reporting labour violations and continued its awareness roadshow to educate the public on labour laws, including on passport retention.