An estimated 475,300 Thais are trapped in modern slavery - through human trafficking, forced labour, or commercial sexual exploitation - which requires prompt action from both the government and business sector, according to a survey.
The 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI) report said that in Thailand - a destination for about 3 million migrant workers - men, women and children have been subject to forced labour and sexual exploitation in the sex industry, forced begging, domestic work, fishing, manufacturing, and agricultural industries.
The report also referred to an International Labour Organisation survey, which found about 17 per cent of workers in the fishing industry endure forced labour. The growing tourism industry also creates a demand for child sex. Women and children are forced to work long hours in domestic servitude.
Thailand in October 2013 ratified the UN Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Protocol but it was criticised for limited action in addressing modern slavery, which resulted in a downgrade to Tier 3 in the annual US Government Trafficking in Persons report.
"Despite the rhetoric of the National Policy Strategies and Measures to Prevent and Suppress Trafficking in Persons (2011-2016), the government's efforts remain disconnected to the reality on the ground. The majority of the government's efforts focus on addressing the sexual exploitation of women and children, rather than labour exploitation.
"In 2013, of the 674 human trafficking cases uncovered that year, 520 involved sexual exploitation and only 80 referred to labour exploitation. The government's refusal to recognise the Rohingya, an ethnic group from Myanmar vulnerable to labour exploitation, and offer them protection, is indicative of the government's anti-trafficking efforts," the report said.
Vulnerability remains for workers who use irregular channels of migration into Thailand as well as ethnic minorities, particularly in the North, who are not always granted citizenship and can be exposed to exploitation.
It had four recommendations for the Thai government:
l provide legal status for minority groups and stateless people;
l reform employment-based visas so migrant workers can change employers without losing legal status and without having to obtain their first employer's permission;
l investigate labour exploitation in the fishing industry and actively prosecute Thai labour brokers and officials found complicit in human trafficking for forced labour;
l develop child education, health and protection systems that include appropriate services and treatment of migrant children.
Recommendations for the business sector were directed to the Thai seafood industry. Importers were urged to conduct in-depth supply chain mapping to identify product origin. And producers were advised to conduct social audits on suppliers identified as high risk.
Travel and tourism businesses were advised to adopt child-safe policies.
The 475,300 Thais were among 35.8 million men, women and children trapped in modern slavery worldwide, through trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, or commercial sexual exploitation.
The Global Slavery Index is the key research report by Walk Free Foundation, a human rights organisation with a mission to end modern slavery in a generation. It looks at the percentage of a country's population estimated to be enslaved, as well as the number of people living in modern slavery in each country.
It said slavery exists in each of the 167 countries listed. In East Asia specifically, the highest prevalence of slavery was said to be in Cambodia, followed by Mongolia (0.907 per cent), Thailand (0.709 per cent) and Brunei (0.709 per cent).
China has the highest number living in modern slavery in East Asia with 3.2 million people, followed by Indonesia (714,100), Thailand (475,300) and Vietnam (322,200).
Of the 25 nations measured in Asia, 24 have legislation that criminalises some form of slavery. India has implemented substantial legislative reforms to support the criminalisation of modern slavery, while Mongolia and Vietnam adopted standalone anti-trafficking laws in 2012.
Only three governments were found to be making effort to address modern slavery in government procurement and in supply chains - the US, Brazil and Australia.