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Tier 2 is not the Highest We Can Reach: an Anti-slavery Law is Needed

In June 2019, the Hong Kong Government published a response to the US Trafficking in Persons (“TIP”) Report 2019 which “upgraded” Hong Kong from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2. [1] The statement denied TIP as a prevalent problem in Hong Kong and highlighted different existing anti-TIP mechanisms. In particular, the government emphasized that there are over 50 legal provisions against TIP, which, according to them, is better than relying on a single piece of TIP legislation. But is it true that such legislation is unnecessary in Hong Kong?


Current anti-trafficking legislation

According to s. 129 of the Crimes Ordinance, the current offence of TIP is limited to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. [2] It does not cover “trafficking within Hong Kong, slavery, forced labour, forced marriage, removal of organs, domestic servitude, or any other kinds of TIP”. [3]

While the government has been claiming that there is an effective legal framework against TIP, civil society groups report that the police often dismiss complaints about forced labour or TIP on the ground that they are not criminal offences in Hong Kong. [4]


Modern slavery bill

Having realized the legal loophole, local legislator Dennis Kwok together with lawyers drafted an anti-slavery law that models after the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. [5] The law seeks to criminalise all forms of TIP activity and impose life sentences on perpetrators of those crimes. [6] It also proposes to freeze assets deriving from TIP as they are currently not regulated by the anti-money laundering regime. [7]


However, resistance from the government and pro-government legislators is expected as they do not agree that Hong Kong is a “human trafficking black spot”. [8][9]


Conclusion

As such, there is indeed an imminent need for Hong Kong to pass the law. Meanwhile, there has to be more training for law enforcement agencies so that they have at least the basic knowledge of TIP crimes. [10]

As an international financial centre with over 390,000 foreign domestic workers, constituting about 10% of the labour force [11], the government has a responsibility to make sure that any form of modern slavery is not tolerated in this city. Without substantial improvements to our system, our ranking will be downgraded soon again. We should make a greater effort in combatting human trafficking. Tier 2 is not the highest we can reach.


  1. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, ‘Government response to US Trafficking in Persons Report 2019’ (20 June 2019) <https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201906/20/P2019062000915.htm> accessed 20 November 2019

  2. Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200), s 129

  3. The Law Society of Hong Kong, ‘The Need for the Crimes (Amendment) (Modern Slavery) Bill 2019’ (2019) Hong Kong Lawyer <http://www.hk-lawyer.org/content/need-crimes-amendment-modern-slavery-bill-2019> accessed 20 November 2019

  4. Ibid.

  5. Beh Lih Yi, ‘Hong Kong lawmaker vows fresh push for UK-style anti-slavery law’ (Reuters, 9 January 2019) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-trafficking-lawmaking/hong-kong-lawmaker-vows-fresh-push-for-uk-style-anti-slavery-law-idUSKCN1P30PR> accessed 19 November 2019

  6. Raquel Carvalho, ‘Legislator and lawyers push for bill against human trafficking in Hong Kong’ (South China Morning Post, 8 April 2018) <https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2140749/long-awaited-law-against-human-trafficking-be-discussed> accessed 20 Novemeber 2019

  7. See n 3.

  8. See n 6.

  9. David Bishop, ‘Why Hong Kong’s reputation as a human trafficking black spot is justified’ (South China Morning Post, 4 September 2018) <https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/hong-kong/article/2162485/why-hong-kongs-reputation-human-trafficking-black> accessed 21 November 2019

  10. 鄭祉愉, 勞顯亮 & 慈美琳, ‘【人口販賣】香港評級與伊拉克相同 無專門法例 或被國際制裁’ (HK01, 29 March 2019) <https://www.hk01.com/%E5%91%A8%E5%A0%B1/306728/%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E8%B2%A9%E8%B3%A3-%E9%A6%99%E6%B8%AF%E8%A9%95%E7%B4%9A%E8%88%87%E4%BC%8A%E6%8B%89%E5%85%8B%E7%9B%B8%E5%90%8C-%E7%84%A1%E5%B0%88%E9%96%80%E6%B3%95%E4%BE%8B-%E6%88%96%E8%A2%AB%E5%9C%8B%E9%9A%9B%E5%88%B6%E8%A3%81> accessed 24 November 2019

  11. See n 1.

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