Hong Kong losing the fight against human trafficking, US report finds

City downgraded in latest global rankings, placing it alongside Afghanistan and Thailand

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 11:01pm

Hong Kong has failed to improve its ability to combat human trafficking, according to a United States government report, which downgraded the SAR’s position in its global assessment.

The city’s rating was lowered to the Tier 2 Watch List - one rank away from the worst offenders - in the latest annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Hong Kong’s efforts are considered to be on par with Thailand, which was upgraded from Tier 3, and Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, with poor human rights records, signalling these countries were doing the bare minimum. Hong Kong was last downgraded in 2009 to Tier 2 from Tier 1, the highest ranking, underscoring its slow decline in recent years.

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Justifying the downgrade, the US report said: “Hong Kong does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”

The government gave a typically robust denial that it was not meeting standards.

A Security Bureau spokesman said it regretted the findings, saying it displayed a “total disregard of the continuous and strenuous efforts of our law enforcement agencies” to tackle the issue.

“The government’s continual denial, even the latest heavy handed rejection of the conclusions of the report, has earned itself the lambasting by the US state department and the NGO community at large,” Patricia Ho, human rights lawyer at Daly and Associates, said.

“In the last year, we have assisted an increasing number of serious instances of trafficking, whether for the purposes of sex work or for labour, and the government’s utter failure to recognise the issue, let alone assisting the victims, is encouraging traffickers to operate with impunity in Hong Kong,” she said.

Ho is leading a judicial review, which challenges the government over its failure to pass laws protecting victims of forced labour and human trafficking.

The TIP report cited a Justice Centre Hong Kong study, which revealed systemic abuse and exploitation among migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and found that one in six domestic workers are in forced labour.

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Jade Anderson, anti-human trafficking coordinator at the rights group, said: “Rather than categorically rejecting the findings and denying any problem, the government should urgently conduct a formal review on the situation of human trafficking and forced labour in the territory, in consultation with civil society.”

A government spokesperson added: “TIP is not tolerated in Hong Kong. Our comprehensive legal framework, vigorous enforcement efforts, independent judiciary, rule of law and a clean government place us on a solid footing to combat human trafficking and related offences.”

Outgoing US consul general to Hong Kong, Clifford Hart, said: “The issue of modern slavery in Hong Kong is bringing the SAR’s laws up to par with international standards. International anti-trafficking standards have evolved. Standing still is slipping backwards in the face of a growing global challenge.”