“Many people think that human trafficking always involves women and children who are forced into prostitution after being kidnapped from their home villages by a dodgy man (the trafficker). However, only a few cases are like these”, says Anders Lisborg. As Programme Officer for ILO (International Labour Organisation) he is the manager of a regional anti-trafficking project. According to him, human trafficking is mainly a question of working conditions and labour rights. A question of having the choice to say stop.
Most migrant workers have chosen to move in order to improve their living conditions. But many are poor and vulnerable and some get trapped in the migration process or at destination and end up being exploited and abused, Anders Lisborg explains. ”It becomes trafficking when middlemen or employers take advantage of migrant’s vulnerability and sell them to a situation where their rights are violated. If they for example are not paid, not allowed to leave the factory or the compound or if they are physically or psychologically abused.”
“When you boil down the words of UN’s definition of trafficking it is basically about addressing severe labour exploitation and lack of decent working conditions,in different sectors,” he says “In others words, whenever you can talk about migrant workers being forced or tricked into severe exploitation at the worksite or during tansportation – then it is basically a case of trafficking.”
However, this does not mean that everybody have the same requisites and the same choices. “We know that the world in reality is not as fair as we would like it to be.” The important thing is that people can chose what to do and what not to do. And have the option to say stop,” he says.
From the boxing stadium to the UN building
Anders Lisborg’s first interest in Thailand had nothing to do with trafficking. “I have practised Thai boxing since I was 15. When I came to Thailand the first time in 1993, after severing for some years as a Sergeant in the Army, I came to train and fight in the county where the sport was invented”, he says.
At that time Anders Lisborg’s dream was to work on the other side of the streets from where his office is today. At the famous Rajadamnern Boxing Station.
“I never looked at the UN building across the street at that time”, he says. “And I had certainly no idea that I once would end up inside it wearing a tie”.
However, Anders Lisborg has been working for the ILO since he was posted in Nepal in 2003 as a JPO (Junior Professional Officer) by the Ministry for foreign Affairs Denmark. He later got absorbed into the ILO Thailand and from his office at the UN building in Bangkok he is today fighting a different fight. The fight against what some call modern slavery.
The reintegration project, Anders Lisborg manages aims through local partners at helping Thai and Philippine woman who have been victims of trafficking to lead a better life when they have returned home. “Many women who have been victims of trafficking just return to the same difficult situation as they left. Then they can sit in their village and think about leaving again. We work with local partners to empower the returned women both socially and economically so they can move on with their lives,” says Anders Lisborg. He is also involved in a project, which focuses on preventing human trafficking in six countries in the Mekong Sub-Region.
A local perspective
Although Anders Lisborg’s boxing career in Thailand didn’t take him to Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium, it did kick start his concern for social inequality in the world.
“I got a very local perspective on things from the people I met through boxing who often were quite poor. You don’t fight for fun in Thailand. The
Thai boxers are all professional and fight to make a living. When I came back to Denmark I decided that I wanted to live and work abroad and I decided to study International Development Studies at Roskilde University”.
During this time Anders started working with migration and trafficking. “I have always been interested in sub-cultures so in 1997 I started a research project about Thai sex-workers in Denmark and did field work for 6 months among sex-workers in Copenhagen. Because there was not much research done at this area my report got a lot of public and media attention in Denmark”, he says.
This led to more work in the field. He returned to Thailand in order to do an internship for the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) “I did field work in Myanmar and Cambodia about woman and children who had been victims of trafficking”, he says. During this time in Thailand he met his Thai wife.
One is one too many
According to Anders Lisborg, all countries in the world can find examples of labour exploitation and trafficking in different sectors of the labour market. But there tend to be more cases of trafficking and labour exploitation in countries which have a large informal sector, and where the labour marked is not as fully regulated. Thailand is one of these countries.
“Thailand is the main receiving country of migrant workers in this region. Simply because Thailand richer and many migrants see opportunities here”, says Anders Lisborg. A lot of men and woman are for example trafficked into Thailand from Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia to work in the fishing industry, do construction work or work on the big plantations in northern Thailand. Young girls from Lao PDR typically go to Thailand to do domestic work, while a relatively large group of migrants end up in the sex-sector. Thailand is also a sending country. Thais go abroad to work in other countries in the region, Europe, and the US.
Anders Lisborg underlines that it is important to remember, that most of these cases are ordinary labour migration and have nothing to do with trafficking. “All informal migrant workers or foreign sex-workers are not victims of trafficking. But still many face exploitation and if just one of them are forced and abused then that is one too many. Then we talk about modern slavery and severe violations of human rights.”
To fight trafficking
To fight human trafficking is not an easy task. “We have to work at many different levels such as conducting research, assisting Governments to improve legislation, capacity building of local partners, and provide direct assistance to vulnerable groups and victims of trafficking” One strategy is to prevent human trafficking by giving vulnerable people alternative options like education, vocational training and successful job placement, Anders Lisborg explains. ILO also launch with awareness campaigns to draw attention to the risky aspects of migration. “We try to give migrants information and some contacts point, such as NGOs or organisations that they would be able to rely on at the destination.
Most importantly human trafficking could be eliminated, if everybody had decent working conditions – or at least the option to quit.
“Imagine if you one day would be forces to stay at your workplace and to work hard without being paid. Imagine that armed guards kept you there. Imagine you had to stay like this for months or years. We have seen many cases like that. We have to end forced labour and labour exploitations and to make sure all workers have the option to sat stop. No matter which sector of the labour market they are in,” he finishes