Chance for a powerful alliance against human trafficking

IT IS always good to be among the best. But it is not just about bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment.

A place in the top level can have deep meaning and broad consequences for a country and its people, such as when it is given Tier 1 ranking in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report.

Tier 1 status is the mark of a nation that has its heart in the right place. This is why it is hugely significant that Malaysia aims to be in that list by 2020.

And there is a lot to do, as pointed out by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during his recent interview with The Star.

He said Malaysia needed to beef up its enforcement agencies, work more closely with Interpol, and increase cooperation with the governments of human trafficking source countries.

In June, Malaysia was upgraded to Tier 2. The last time we had that ranking was in 2005. We have made it to Tier 2 only five times in the 17 years that the TiP report has been published.

At other times, we were either on the Tier 2 Watch List or the bottom category of Tier 3.

Two decades should be long enough for us to figure out how to best deal with human trafficking.

Let us be clear that Tier 1 ranking is not a certification that the country is rid of human trafficking. It does, however, indicate that the government acknowledges the existence of human trafficking, tries to address the problem and complies with the US law’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

The TiP report focuses on the efforts of governments, but the war on human trafficking is not waged with merely government policies and actions.

It requires the cooperation of employers, for example. They must honour their obligations to their foreign workers, and follow the rules in matters such as the minimum wage policy, freedom of movement, and retention of passports.

Then there is the fact that the trafficking rings are aided by corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesses. A special report last week by The Star’s R.AGE team highlighted how several local colleges work with traffickers who dangle education and job opportunities in front of young Bangladeshis to get them to come to Malaysia.

Civil society definitely has a role to play in the fight against human trafficking. Some NGOs have long complained that the Government is not doing enough on this front, and they were sceptical when Malaysia was moved up to Tier 2.

In the interview with The Star, Dr Ahmad Zahid invited those “hard-hitting” organisations to assist the Government, particularly the Home Ministry, in helping trafficking victims and increasing awareness of the problem.

While acknowledging that the NGOs and the Government may have different opinions, he said there was nothing wrong in them joining forces for the sake of national interest.

The invitation has been extended. Let us hope this will result in a powerful and effective alliance.