Singapore has been ranked Tier 2 in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US Department of State on 27 July, meaning that despite making significant efforts, the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
Although the report acknowledges that many migrants come into Singapore willingly to work, it also highlights that many of these low-wage workers accrue significant debts through recruitment fees, thus making them vulnerable to forced labour.
Other issues flagged include the widespread practice of passport confiscation, as well as employers’ ability to cancel work permits and repatriate workers at any time.
“Unscrupulous employers exploit the non-transferability of low-skilled work visas to control or manipulate workers. Some employers in Singapore rely on repatriation companies to seize, confine, and escort foreign workers to the airport for departure from Singapore, including through the use of assaults, threats, and coercion, to prevent them from complaining about abuses to authorities,” said the report.
The report also notes that women are sometimes “subjected to forced prostitution under the threat of serious harm, including financial harm, or other forms of coercion”, and that cases of child sex trafficking in both boys and girls continues to exist in Singapore. Men are also sometimes subjected to forced labour on fishing vessels that depart from or dock in Singapore’s ports.
The report recommended that the Singapore government increase investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offences under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014, and that specialised training be provided to officials so that victims of trafficking can be better identified. The US State Department also suggested that funding be given to shelters run by NGOs for victims of trafficking, and that victims not be punished for “acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking”, among others.
Jolovan Wham, a social worker with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), agreed with the US State Department’s assessment, saying that it was the ranking that the NGO itself had recommended when first engaging with the US government on the issue of trafficking.
The complete report can be found here.