Addressing Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia

By Alec Rossi and Matthew Norris

Delegates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were tasked with addressing the issue of human trafficking, as well as considering the political and economic ramifications of proposed solutions. Considering both access to funding and the feasibility of multinational cooperation, member states were aiming to resolve the illegal exploitation of the marginalized by increasing educational efforts, vocational training, and regional oversight.

Southeast Asia has become a hub for the $150 billion human trafficking industry, which often recruits the vulnerable within rural communities. Most of the 20.9 million victims of trafficking worldwide are forced to work in the sex industry. Debt bondage, another common type of trafficking, leads to forced labor and enslavement, a concept equated to antebellum age slavery.

The delegate of the People’s Republic of China first suggested increasing educational efforts and awareness as a means to curb the incidence of trafficking. Through describing the risks of being lured abroad and placed into forced labor, the delegate of the United States called for the education of everyone at risk of trafficking as a means to, “figure out short-term goals to get to long-term solutions”. Described by Thailand as “the base of social and economic growth, [the] lack of information over the subject facilitates people to go to [traffickers].”

The American delegation called for partnership with the Administration for Children and Families, which allocated $13 million for the prevention of trafficking abroad. Through increasing funding and, consequently, creating more awareness campaigns and putting more money into the educational efforts, the risks of trafficking can be lessened in rural and at-risk communities. In response to this proposal, the Republic of Korea emphasized that the existing funding was adequate; however, better management of capital was needed to result in creating the most effective preventative measures. Elaborating further on the importance of education, Australia suggested a civics program to educate Southeast Asians about labor rights, and the resources available to help the victims of human trafficking.

While the Republic of Korea had already signed several memorandums of understanding for the Employment Permit System, an organization that tries to minimize the exploitation of temporary workers, and conducted campaigns against trafficking, the delegate emphasized his nation’s focus on “bridging the gap between rural and local areas.” The delegate saw hope in ASEAN’s work but recognized that “all nations are sensitive of sovereignty,” and that specific domestic policy changes cannot be made, only recommended.

The People’s Republic of China also suggested that local governments work with their national counterparts to appropriate resources and create jobs congruent with the needs of the respective regions. Through the institution of this policy, the People’s Republic hoped to reduce reliance on the inexpensive labor of traffickers. The nation’s greatest hope regarding this vocational policy was that “governments profit off of quality labor, not quantity [labor].”

The delegate of the United States of America brought up the importance of border security. Building off of the Republic of Korea’s classification of the three types of countries involved in trafficking – source, transit, and destination – the American delegate suggested that the best way to deal with the issue was to seal the borders of the source countries. Tighter border security is needed within these regions, since they tend to be the poorest and least developed.

The delegates of Mongolia and the People’s Republic of China agreed there was a need for increased security, and recommended an enlarged regional task force to combat trafficking in at risk regions. The delegate of The People's Republic of China went on to recommend giving money earned by convicted traffickers to local governments to improve technology and support the growth of border security.

However, many nations raised concerns regarding sealing borders completely. The Russian Federation brought up economic repercussions of such a policy and questioned how complete sealing could be achieved. The delegate of the Republic of Korea also disagreed, stating that rather than increasing border security, ASEAN should work to enforce the laws already in place and understand why some were ineffective in order to correct and improve on the existing jurisprudence. Nations also commented on the United States of America’s desire to seal off borders as analogous to newfound xenophobia influenced by President Trump.

While ASEAN has not yet reached a consensus on specific solutions to the problem, the delegate of the Republic of Korea expressed the sentiment of all delegates when he said, “ASEAN serves as a model way of bringing innovative ideas together and innovative solutions.”