It has been a busy few months for the HOME legal team and their volunteers as they have been formulating a response to MP Christopher De Souza’s private member’s bill addressing human trafficking in Singapore. Currently there is no specific legal framework dealing with this, despite the fact that Singapore is a well-known regional hub for trafficking. The new Bill provides a perfect opportunity to enshrine into law international definitions of trafficking and the requirements to prevent it, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators. However, Singapore is not yet a signatory to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the legal team is concerned that this opportunity to tackle trafficking could be missed if Mr De Souza’a Bill is not sufficiently robust.
At public consultations held in March and April, the details of what is likely to be in the Bill were presented to representatives from civil society. As the Bill is still being finalized, the legal team has taken the opportunity to submit a comprehensive summary of key points which it feels must be included if it is to really make a difference.
One of the principal points in the submission is the importance of the definition of trafficking. HOME believes terms relating to the ways in which people are trafficked, such as ‘deception’, ‘coercion’ and ‘abuse of position of vulnerability’ must be defined to include the kind of practices which often occur in Singapore. This means that ‘deception’ must cover deception as to the conditions of work as well as the nature of work, so that workers who are promised certain wages, working hours and living conditions which are then not delivered, will be protected in the same way as women deceived into sex work when they had been promised domestic work. Similarly ‘coercion’ and ‘abuse of position of vulnerability’ must include threats of redundancy and deportation, wage withholding and debt bondage as well as physical restraint and violence. The definition of ‘exploitation’ is also critical. The UN Protocol definition covers all involuntary work and services extracted by the use of threats and penalties from which the person cannot escape and HOME believes that the Bill must adhere to this definition.
HOME’s submission strongly makes the case that the needs and rights of the victims of trafficking should be at the heart of the Bill and that workers who bring a case against their employers must be protected from intimidation and prosecution, and allowed to seek alternative work whilst their case is being considered. Without these statutory rights for the victims of trafficking, few workers are likely to come forward, prosecutions are unlikely to occur and the Bill will be undermined.
Finally HOME’s submission urges that the Bill follows the UN Protocol and criminalizes attempts to traffic people, accomplices to trafficking and those who direct others to commit trafficking. They believe that liability should extend throughout the supply chain and include companies who knowingly engage suppliers or sub-contractors who use trafficked labour. This may not be music to the ears of a government seeking to attract foreign investors, but would be an important way of tackling trafficking from the demand side.
HOME’s response to the Bill has been submitted to Mr De Souza and we hope he will agree to discuss it further before the final drafting. It is a comprehensive document that sets out clearly how Singapore can meet international standards on tackling human trafficking. Let’s hope all the hard work pays off.
If you wish to read HOME’s submission in full, you can download it here.