19 October 2019
Hong Kong is under ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ for the third straight year in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong is under ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ for the third straight year in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Photo: Bloomberg

Time for Hong Kong to do more to curb human trafficking

The US Department of State has been publishing the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report since 2001 as required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) passed by Congress in 2000.

The TIP report ranks countries and regions around the world based on their efforts, determination and results in fighting global human trafficking activities.

The report puts countries and regions into three categories according to their current state of human trafficking.

If a country or region is ranked under Tier 1, it means its government has fully met the minimum standards laid down in the TVPA.

Tier 2 countries refer to those whose governments have failed to fully meet the TVPA minimum standards, but are making substantial and concerted efforts in order to fulfill those standards.

As to countries that are rated Tier 3, their governments have failed to meet the minimum standards of the TVPA and are making no effort at trying to improve their human trafficking condition.

According to the latest TIP report released in June, Hong Kong is ranked by the US State Department under “Tier 2 watch list” for the third consecutive year.

Also on the same Tier 2 watch list this year are Zimbabwe, Libya and the Central African Republic.

Being put on Tier 2 watch list means our city saw a significant rise in human trafficking cases in the past year, and our government couldn’t provide substantial and convincing proof that it is working aggressively to address the problem.

In fact Hong Kong would probably have got bumped down to Tier 3 by the State Department this year had it not been for the pledges made by the SAR government to step up efforts at combating human trafficking with a solid action plan.

There is definitely no room for complacency for us because under the TVPA, the US government can only exempt Hong Kong from getting downgraded further for a maximum of two years.

As such, if the government fails to deliver any substantial improvement regarding human trafficking in the short run, it is very likely that Hong Kong will be rated a Tier 3 region by the US State Department after 2019.

What is truly noteworthy about the TVPA rankings is that they would have profound implications for US foreign policies towards these regions and countries.

For instance, the TVPA stipulates that the US government should not provide aid to any Tier 3 country and region unless such aid is of a humanitarian or trade nature.

Besides, the law also requires Washington to impose restrictions on government funding for education and cultural exchanges with Tier 3 countries.

What is more, the American president is also given the power to order executive directors representing the US in any multilateral development bank or the International Monetary Fund to vote against or say no to proposals to provide capital or loans for any Tier 3 country or region.

Of course, such sanctions imposed by the US government are unlikely to have any imminent and significant impact on a highly developed international city like Hong Kong.

However, the problem is, it will definitely take a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s international image as a first-class world city if we are declared a Tier 3 region. And our dented international image may also undermine our economic viability in the long run.

Just imagine this: if you were the CEO of a multinational business corporation, would you want to set up your company’s Asia-Pacific region headquarters in a city that has been declared the “human trafficking capital of Asia” by the US government?

Earlier this year, I, along with my Legco colleague Dennis Kwok Wing-hang of the Civic Party, lawyer Patricia Ho and barrister Azan Marwah, jointly drafted a “Modern Slavery Bill”. The bill has been discussed by the Legco panel on security in June, and is about to be submitted to the Law Draftsman for scrutiny.

Since the bill involves government policies, and under Article 74 of the Basic Law, we will need the written consent of the Chief Executive first before we can officially introduce the bill to Legco.

I sincerely hope that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor can give us the green light in order to illustrate the government’s resolve in combating human trafficking activities.

Last but not least, the SAR government set up a steering committee back in March this year and passed an action plan in order to crack down on human trafficking and enhance protection for foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.

I am strongly in support of the work and mission of this steering committee, and expect the body to fulfill its intended role in coordinating efforts among different government departments at combating human trafficking.

Meanwhile, I also hope that the steering committee can serve as a bridge of communication between our law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations, so as to boost their efficacy in identifying victims and uncovering human trafficking cases.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)