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US Trafficking in Persons Report urges HK to better protect FDWs

03 July 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

HK is urged to fully protect FDWs so they not become easy prey to labor traffickers

A call for increased protection for foreign domestic workers is among the key recommendations listed by the United States’ Human Trafficking in Persons Report this year, which retained Hong Kong in Tier 2 Watch List status for the second consecutive year

The 2021 Report which was published on July 2 urged the HK government to prohibit the collection of recruitment fees from FDWs, eliminate the two-week rule, allow them to live outside their place of employment, and legalize their working hours, saying these will reduce workers’ vulnerability to trafficking.

The US State Department Report also called on the Hong Kong government to “proactively investigate unscrupulous employment agencies and money lenders for their complicity in labor trafficking and sufficiently penalize convicted agency operators.”


In addition, foreign victims of trafficking should be allowed to work and study in Hong Kong while taking part in the prosecution of their traffickers, said the Report.

Hong Kong immediately responded by calling its Tier 2 Watch List rating as “biased and unreasonable.”

Being in this category, according to the annual TIP Report, means the government concerned has not met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking although it is making significant efforts to do so.

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In a statement released on the same day, Hong Kong said it “has been making proactive, all-out and multi-pronged efforts” to combat human trafficking.

This includes the creation of a high-level steering committee, chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration, to provide policy direction in the fight against human trafficking and the protection of FDWs, said the statement.

It added that the US State Department “not only ignored the fact that TIP has never been a prevalent problem in Hong Kong, but also neglected our unparalleled efforts made over the years and the substantial amount of resources injected in the fight against TIP.”

HK Police and various govt agencies identified only 3 trafficking victims in 2020

The new initiatives reportedly included setting up a dedicated FDW Division in the Labour Department in September 2020 to enhance foreign helper protection, and an investigation section in the Immigration Department to check on any trafficking-linked offences.

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Their investigations continued even amid the pandemic, said the government statement.

For the whole of last year, the Hong Kong Police and various government agencies reportedly investigated 6,900 but only three victims were identified.

“The very small number and percentage of victims identified reinforce our observation all along that TIP has never been a prevalent problem in Hong Kong,” the statement said.


But it is precisely the small number of cases identified as trafficking-related that showed how ineffective Hong Kong’s screening mechanism was, said the TIP report.

Of about 1,500 people investigated by Labour’s FDW division, only one was identified as a trafficked victim. Immigration screened 2,500 visa applications and reported only one other victim.

“The government did not report if the third victim was exploited in forced labor or sex trafficking,” said the report.

The fact that only a few victims were identified was due to the “ineffective implementation of the screening mechanism and a lack of understanding of psychological trauma associated with trafficking,” added the report.

As in previous years, Hong Kong was criticized for not having laws that fully criminalize trafficking, and merely relied on various provisions of the law relating to prostitution, immigration, employment and physical abuse to prosecute trafficking crimes.

This, said the report, “made it difficult both to accurately assess the government’s prosecution efforts compared with the previous year and to determine which law enforcement actions involved human trafficking as defined by international law.”

Apart from labor trafficking, the report also focused on sex trafficking, particularly of children from the Mainland.

The TIP Report also made the following recommendations:

    ·         Improve the screening quality to identify trafficking victims, particularly children in commercial sex; 

    ·         Stop penalizing victims for the unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit, and improve interagency coordination to ensure victims are not punished through immigration proceedings 

    ·         Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected sex and labor traffickers, and sentence those convicted to significant prison terms 

The TIP also calls for increased consultation with NGOs so interviews are victim-centered

    ·         Increase collaboration with NGOs and social welfare experts to update anti-trafficking policies, come up with interview processes so they are more victim-centered, improve services for trafficking victims, and create in-depth training for law enforcers

    ·         Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in accordance with the 20002 UN TIP Protocol

    ·         Ensure non-resident victims, including children, are provided adequate services in Hong Kong.
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