01 Aug 2011

Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce's Detailed Response to the 2011 US State Department's Trafficking In Persons Report

      The Singapore Inter-agency Taskforce on trafficking in persons (TIP) notes that as a result of the Singapore Government’s efforts, Singapore was upgraded to Tier 2 from the Tier 2 Watchlist in the recent US Department of State's TIP Report 2011.


2.     As Singapore grows as a hub for travel, tourism, and economic activity, we expect to become an increasingly attractive potential destination for human trafficking syndicates. We therefore recognise the need to continually step up efforts in increasing our vigilance and responsiveness towards this threat. 


Anti-trafficking measures undertaken by the Taskforce


3.     The Singapore Taskforce on TIP, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), coordinates anti-trafficking initiatives and policy alignment between government agencies in Singapore. The Taskforce includes representatives from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Immigrations & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports (MCYS), Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). The formation of the Taskforce underscores the seriousness with which the Government views trafficking and aims to improve efforts in tackling this abhorrent international crime.


4.      To fight trafficking, Singapore adopts a holistic strategy (known as the “4 ‘P’s”) against trafficking. The 4 ‘P’s are Prevention, Prosecution, Protection and Partnership. This strategy emphasises constructing safeguards against human trafficking, prosecuting perpetrators, protecting victims and cooperating with other governments and civil society to encourage reporting and information sharing.


5.   Singapore takes a proactive approach towards trafficking. SPF actively gathers intelligence and develops leads on syndicates, with a view of disrupting their activities and arresting the perpetrators. In fact, more than 40% of the trafficking cases which SPF investigated in 2010 arose out of proactive enforcement efforts initiated by the SPF. Likewise, approximately 60 % of MOM's inspections on foreign worker-related labour infringements arose from intelligence and proactive raids.


6.     The Taskforce is currently drafting a National Plan of Action for Singapore to tackle both sex and labour trafficking. We are also studying the possibility of future accession to the UN TIP Protocol. 


Inaccuracies and Misunderstandings in US TIP report


7.      While the 2011 TIP Report has acknowledged the progress made by Singapore in this area and has highlighted some areas for improvement, the Singapore Inter-agency Taskforce on TIP notes several inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the Report which we would like to clarify. 


Efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts


8.     The Report said that the Singapore Government did not make proactive efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Singapore’s commercial sex industry. We would like to state that Singapore has criminalised various commercial sex activities and the SPF conducts proactive enforcement for the purpose of reducing demand for commercial sexual services. In 2010, SPF conducted 3,608 anti-commercial sex operations which led to the arrest of 94 commercial sex agents or “pimps”. Such cases are publicised in the media to raise awareness and to deter others from engaging in such activities. 


Allegations on reported delaying publication


9.      The Report suggested that authorities delayed the publication of independent research conducted on sex trafficking. The Government takes this unsubstantiated allegation very seriously. So far, the Task Force is aware of only of the report by ECPAT International on "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Young People in Singapore". The Task Force wishes to put on record that the allegation that "authorities" delayed its publication is wholly inaccurate. During the Government's interaction with the Singapore National Committee for UN Women (formally known as UNIFEM), which was initiated by the Committee to seek our comments on the Report, the Government did not suggest a publication date nor attempt to delay the Report's release. The Committee decided the release date of the Report based on its own internal considerations and circumstances. This was not influenced by "authorities". The Government requests the State Department to substantiate its claim. 


Labour trafficking prosecutions


10.       The Report erroneously stated that “the government did not prosecute or convict any offenders of labor trafficking during the reporting period.” On top of the five sex trafficking convictions, there were another eight labour trafficking convictions, mainly related to shell companies and the persistent withholding of passports by employment agents. The Court fined the employment agencies between S$1,200 and S$2,000, depending on the facts of each case. We regret that this information, which had been made available to the State Department prior to the publication of the Report, was not reflected. 


Criminal prosecutions for withholding of passports


11.     While the Report claimed that in 2010 there were “no criminal prosecutions or convictions of employers or employment agencies who withheld passports of foreign workers, MOM had in fact revoked the licenses of three employment agencies, forfeited the security deposits, and prosecuted them in court for withholding workers’ passports. These cases were also highlighted to the US this year. We regret that this information, which had been made available to the State Department prior to the publication of the Report, was not reflected. 


Allegations of Forced Labour on board Fishing Vessels


12.     The Report suggested that the fishing vessels involved in human trafficking ‘originated’ from Singapore and that the Government had refused to take action on reported forced labour on shipping vessels. We would like the State Department to clarify these 'reports' and to suggest how this issue could be addressed by Singapore, given the jurisdictional issues highlighted below.


13.      We have not found any evidence of forced labour being committed on Singapore-flagged ships, by Singapore employers, or within Singapore waters. The information received seems to suggest allegations of forced labour committed by employers who operated outside our jurisdiction. Even though the Government did not have the jurisdiction or powers to deal with such cases, it continued to provide assistance by forwarding all the facts of the cases and details of the agents who recruited the fishermen, to the embassies of the relevant flag states and source countries for their follow-up. In addition, the Singapore Organisation of Seamen and the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union provided assistance in recovering the outstanding salaries of these fishermen and arranged for their return home. The Task Force will continue to engage the relevant embassies, and source country enforcement agencies, to make progress on this issue.


14.      The Taskforce investigated the few Singapore-based companies involved and found that they had performed the role of administrators providing logistical and HR support for the foreign employers who had recruited the foreign fishermen in their home countries. The Singapore-based companies did not perform placement activities. The terms and conditions of employment were also discussed and agreed upon between the foreign companies and the foreign workers before they came to Singapore. 


Action taken against repatriation companies


15.      The Report suggested that Singapore did not pursue any criminal investigations or prosecutions for potential trafficking in cases of wrongful confinement by repatriation companies, and that no cases were referred to the SPF. This is untrue.


16.      Singapore does not tolerate the wrongful confinement of workers or their forceful repatriation without settling of salaries and other legitimate claims. When such claims are brought to the attention of the Taskforce, we investigate both the repatriation companies and the employers who engage them. MOM and SPF jointly investigated two such cases in 2010.


17.       Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers must give their foreign employees reasonable notice of their repatriation. The employer must also bear the full cost of repatriation and shall ensure that all outstanding salaries or monies due to the foreign employee have been paid before the foreign employee’s repatriation. Foreign workers who complain of abuses or salary arrears to ICA officers at Singapore check-points are directed to MOM for assistance. The Government will investigate all such claims and take appropriate action against the employers responsible.


18.       In 2010, an employee from a repatriation company was prosecuted and sent to jail for voluntarily causing hurt to a foreign worker. The employers who had engaged the repatriation companies were also given stern warnings for the abetment of wrongful restraint. 


Medical and other services provided to trafficking victims


19.      The Report suggested that there were “no known victims” of trafficking being afforded the opportunity to avail themselves of medical and other services at the shelter in 2010.


20.         This statement is inaccurate. Prior to the publication of the Report, we had provided at the State Department’s request detailed written information on the various services - including medical, counselling and translation - that trafficking victims had utilised last year. In 2010, 7 victims were assisted by the shelters for medical services. We regret that this information, which had been made available to the State Department prior to the publication of the Report, was not reflected. 


Restriction of movement in government shelters


21.        The Report indicated that “victims residing in government shelters sometimes have their movements restricted while assisting authorities with investigation and prosecution of their traffickers”.


22.       We wish to clarify that all victims residing in Government shelters are allowed to move freely in and out of the shelters, except where the individual concerned faces physical threats or where there are serious concerns with witness tampering. Victims are only required to sign in/out when they enter or leave the shelters, provide contact details and inform shelter staff if they intend to stay out late. These measures are not intended to prevent a victim from leaving the shelter premises but are meant to ensure the victims' safety. 


Application of Sec 140 Women’s Charter


23.         The Report misinterprets Section 140 of the Women’s Charter to suggest that it is not applicable to non-physical forms of coercion. The provision can cover a wide variety of situations where a woman is detained against her will, including where there is no threat of physical injury, depending on the facts of the case. 


Conclusion


24.       Singapore takes a serious view of TIP and its related crimes. We are constantly reviewing our laws, policies and enforcement practices to better address this issue. We have taken steps to ensure closer coordination between Government agencies through the setting up of this Taskforce and the development of the National Plan of Action. We are actively engaging NGOs, as well as the foreign embassies in Singapore, and are looking forward to closer partnerships to improve upstream victim identification and protection, as well as successful enforcement against syndicates.


25.        As we progress in our anti-trafficking efforts, Singapore calls on the US to improve the credibility of the State Department's annual Report by ensuring greater accuracy of facts and by making the Report's methodology more objective.

Last Updated on 21 Aug 2015
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