Targeted Solutions to a Global Crisis - Peace Boat Visits Bangkok (2018)
On April 10, Peace Boat arrived at Laem Chabang, a port city approximately 130km from Thailand's capital city of Bangkok. The majority of the country's approximately 69 million residents are farmers, but Thailand's blossoming economy means that city centres like Bangkok have become magnets for urbanized economic activity and waves of migrants seeking to benefit from it. Unfortunately, this influx of population and capital has contributed to Thailand becoming a source, transit point, and destination country for human trafficking. Trafficking is big business: the Global Slavery Index estimates that an approximate 43 million worldwide trafficking victims generate $150 billion USD in annual profit, and Thailand's own participation in this scheme has earned it a global ranking of 20 out of 167 countries. To learn more about this issue, Peace Boat participants had the opportunity to visit Bangkok and meet those working on the frontlines of this global crisis.
Their first destination was the Bangkok office of IOM X, a targeted media campaign to advocate for safe migration run by IOM (the International Organization of Migration). "Basically, human trafficking is when a person is tricked, sold, or forced into a ‘slave-like' situation against their will in order to be exploited for profit," said Program Leader Tara Dermott. "In Thailand, this primarily involves sex workers, domestic workers, and fishermen." Exploitation in the fishing industry is less publicized than other forms of trafficking but presents an enormous problem for the country: Thailand is the world's fourth largest exporter of fish, yet one statistic estimates that approximately 80% of fishermen are being exploited. To address all forms of trafficking, IOM works closely with USAID (the United States Agency of International Development) and the UN Migration Agency, which it joined in 2016. Their IOM X campaign targets an audience aged 15-35 because, says Ms Barrett, "they're the most vulnerable to exploitation yet also the key decision makers as to how our world can change." In Thailand, much of IOM X's advocacy takes place online. Approximately 82% of the Thai population regularly uses the internet, so anti-trafficking campaigns share original multimedia content via online platforms like Facebook and YouTube, and to great effect: one recent video addressing domestic worker trafficking racked up 80 million views in only a few months.
After an incredibly informative morning, participants traveled by foot to nearby restaurant Cabbages and Condoms. Established in 1974 by the PDA (Population and Community Development Association) and Mechai Viravaidya (known locally as "the condom king"), it was founded to help Thailand achieve its economic potential through informed family planning. In the 1970s, Thai families had an average of 7 children; more than many families could afford to feed or who could find employment in adulthood. Mr Viravaidya implemented local contraceptive distribution networks and developed programmes supporting community empowerment, HIV/AIDs education, and other key resources to help Thai people manage their sexual health and fertility. The restaurant's name cheekily nods to one of its goals: that contraceptives become as easy to talk about and as prevalent as vegetables.
Tour participants next headed to one of Bangkok's red light districts to visit CityLight, a cafe providing more than just coffee. CityLight is one of several vocational subsidiaries of globally-funded NGO NightLight International, started in 2005 by American Annie Dieselberg to help trafficked women leave the sex trade for safe and sustainable employment. NightLight representative Ashleigh told Peace Boat participants that CityLight gives women an alternative, though one not without its challenges. "The majority of adults enter into sex work voluntarily, then fall prey to traffickers. Once they're in, it's hard for them to get out." To make this transition easier, CityLight chose to situate itself in the same neighbourhood as establishments dealing in trafficked women. "All of the districts in Thailand cater to different customers," said Ashleigh. "The one we're in is only for foreign men. Even though sex work is illegal in Thailand, it's run like a business by crime syndicates and corrupt policemen." Through NightLight's programmes, approximately 160 Thai women have been employed as baristas, bakers, or jewelry makers, with profits funding their wages and the continued operation of the parent organization.
Although many participants were aware of instances of trafficking in their home countries and those visited on Peace Boat's 97th Asian Voyage, learning about these situations firsthand helped them develop a more grounded perspective. "I knew about it, but today I realized how connected it is to other issues," said Fujiwara Tsuneo; "I'm more aware of how I can have an impact in creating change as a consumer." Homma Mieko said that, coming from an island nation like Japan, it had been hard to imagine victims being taken across borders with such alarming frequency. "Now I know how easily trafficked people can be taken to another country and exploited." IOM's Tara Dermott reminded participants that crossing borders should be a source of opportunity, not crisis. "We believe that migration benefits all. When done safely and humanely, it benefits the migrant, the family they left behind, and the place they find employment." Though human trafficking remains a great source of global suffering, organizations like those visited on Peace Boat's study programme make a safer and more just world seem increasingly possible.