The Need for Law Reformation and Increased Collaboration in Combatting Brunei’s Trafficking in Persons

This article is part of AASYP’s first-ever “Break the Chain” programme which highlights innovative solutions to modern slavery, human-trafficking and forced labour.

In 2019 and 2020, Brunei Darussalam was on Tier 2 Watch List status in the United States (US) government Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, a downgrade from 2018. While this indicates that significant efforts helped mitigate trafficking, the Brunei government has yet to fully meet the minimum standards for the US government TIP Report. Hence, the goal should be to accede to the global TIP report recommendations of both the US government and the United Nations TIP Protocol through increased engagement and collaboration across public and private sectors, raising awareness about the issues through forums, seminars and workshops.

Brunei’s Efforts and Measures to Combat the Issues

Through the years, there were many significant efforts to combat human trafficking in Brunei, including establishing the 2019 Anti Trafficking in Persons Order, which differentiated migrant smuggling from human trafficking. Other initiatives are the formation of the government agency under the Prime Minister’s Office for human trafficking, the creation of the Labour Enforcement Department to monitor the foreign worker recruitment practices, the continued awareness by raising campaigns for employers of foreign workers, and the agreement to the UN TIP Protocol in March 2020.

However, the Brunei government can take more measures to align practices with global standards and recommendations to improve their standing in the US Government’s TIP Report next year.

Posted by Brunei Youths Against Slavery and Human Trafficking on Friday, September 21, 2018

Courtesy: Brunei Youths Against Slavery and Human Trafficking

Lack of Awareness about Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

According to an interview with a member of Youth Against Slavery (YAS) Brunei, a non-governmental organisation, there is an extreme lack of awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery in Brunei’s society, including policy and decision-makers. Often, members of society have a different interpretation of the term ‘human trafficking and ‘modern slavery’ to a point where debt bondage is normalised by the justification that the employee provides consent to do unpaid work to pay their debt to their employer. When in fact, it should still be considered modern slavery and human trafficking by the definitions of the UN, where debt bondage and human trafficking are categorised under modern slavery.

Separating Labour Law Violation and Human Trafficking

The source from YAS states that another problem related to human trafficking in Brunei is that most local cases are only considered as a violation of labour law by the Labour Department. This raises a concern that there should be more concise, coherent and consistent standard operation procedures (SOP) in dealing with human trafficking and forced labour cases. The procedures should clarify the practices and circumstances of when labour law violations should be dealt with under human trafficking. Moreover, one of the YAS member’s cases during the interview is that most of the frontline local police officers are not aware that abuse towards migrant workers can fall under labour trafficking. Hence, the US government has recommended the Government of Brunei to conduct the SOPs successfully by providing training to all the frontline police, immigration and labour officials on the procedures to ensure consistency in the operation.

Increasing Engagements, Collaborations, and Conversations

A whole nation approach would also be a necessary measure to tackle the human trafficking issues in Brunei, which can be done by encouraging more engagement, collaboration and conversation across sectors. The government, NGOs such as YAS Brunei, and private businesses should work together in tackling issues of human trafficking in persons to ensure an ethical supply chain and recruitment practices both within the public and private sectors. Apart from that, a conversation initiated through curated forums, seminars and workshops should be normalised to raise awareness and unify the interpretation of human trafficking in Brunei to be consistent with the definition by the UN.

Posted by Brunei Youths Against Slavery and Human Trafficking on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Courtesy: Brunei Youths Against Slavery and Human Trafficking

As shared by Dusita Videsa, a programme manager of the Bali Process Regional Support Office, during a Break the Chain Programme session, intervention from other parties should be done early in tackling human trafficking issues. Parties that show more interest should take the lead in conducting the project.

The Australian High Commissioner to Brunei, Her Excellency Madam Tiffany McDonald has also been doing vigorous social media marketing and networking for her work and contribution to promote the interests between Australia and Brunei in human trafficking issues. She has been involved in promoting many successful projects in various sectors such as creative art, education, and youth empowerment, which made her gain recognition amongst the locals and youth as a fantastic woman leader. Admittedly, this is an opportunity for YAS Brunei and the other government agency to collaborate with Her Excellency to address human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour within the country. This can create a greater awareness about the issues as Her Excellency has an influential and engaging audience on social media, particularly Instagram, and is an inspiration to many local people.

Despite making significant efforts, Brunei should be more active in combating human trafficking, forced labour, and modern slavery by creating a law and SOPs based on the recommendations in the annual US Government TIP Report. Furthermore, a whole nation approach in raising awareness about the issues is necessary. It can be made possible by gaining the support of aspiring nation leaders, such as Her Excellency, Madam Tiffany McDonald, to ensure its success.

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