SINGAPORE - For the fourth year running, Singapore has been placed in Tier 2 of the four-tier annual Trafficking In Persons (Tip) report, released by the United States Department of State on Friday night, Singapore time.
In their rankings, Tier 2 countries are said to have not fully complied with minimum international standards of protecting migrant workers from forced labour, or other forms of trafficking in persons.
The US report writes that Singapore is a "destination country" for men, women and girls from at least nine different countries, some of whom migrated willingly for work but are later subjected to the sex trade or forced labour as they were unable to pay off hefty debts to recruitment agencies, the report said. Complaints of passport confiscation, restrictions of movement, the illegal withholding of salary and threats of forced repatriation without pay amount to signs of potential trafficking, the report added.
It added that Cambodian and Filipino men are subjected to "forced labour on fishing vessels that stop at the ports of Singapore", with some of them banned from disembarking for years and had to endure "severe abuse".
The report, however, notes "significant efforts" had been made to curb human trafficking, citing harsh sentences imposed on two convicted sex traffickers in 2013, as well as "an improved mechanism for case referral".
"But it did not prosecute or convict any labour traffickers ... (and) continued to face difficulties in identifying and building evidence in cases," it said.
The Republic has been featured in the report since 2004, although the Government has at times disputed the accuracy of the findings.
Friday's report urged the Government to ratify the 2000 United Nations Tip Protocol, which adopts a broad definition of human trafficking, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, servitude and the removal of organs.
While Singapore is not an official signatory, government agencies have used the definition in investigating cases for the past few years.
A private Member's Bill against human trafficking is in the works. A public consultation on the Bill recently concluded.
Singapore does not have a dedicated law to combat human trafficking, but outlaws the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation through different legislation.