2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Brunei

BRUNEI: Tier 2 Watch List

July 2, 2021

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Permalink: https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/brunei/

The Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included standing up an interagency team to investigate all potential trafficking cases, devoting funding towards dedicated male and female trafficking shelters, establishing an interagency public relations task force to raise awareness of trafficking and labor rights, and working with an NGO to produce sample translated employment contracts in the workers’ primary languages. The government created, finalized, and disseminated victim identification and protection standard operating procedures (SOPs) to all government anti-trafficking stakeholders. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. For the third consecutive year, the government did not formally identify any cases of trafficking, despite the significant number of migrant workers in Brunei who exhibit multiple trafficking indicators. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers under its trafficking statute. The government continued to detain, deport, and charge potential victims for crimes without employing a victim-centered approach to discern if traffickers compelled the victims to engage in the unlawful acts. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Brunei was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act form an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Brunei remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.


Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labor traffickers, including complicit government officials, with strong penalties. • Widely disseminate SOPs for victim identification, and train all relevant officials on the procedures, emphasizing a focus on vulnerable populations such as individuals in commercial sex, domestic workers, and migrant workers, including Chinese nationals working on Chinese projects, some of which are managed by state owned enterprises. • Cease the arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for unlawful acts their trafficker compelled them to commit. • Train judges on accurate and effective implementation of trafficking laws, including through understanding the many ways coercion can be applied. • Increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing at-will communication with people outside shelter facilities and issuing work permits to all victims. • Ensure migrant worker contracts and information on their rights and obligations under Brunei law are available in migrant workers’ primary language and that workers can retain a copy. • Issue guidelines on the prohibition of recruitment agencies charging or receiving worker-funded fees and enforce the prohibition. • Implement the victims’ fund to allow those funds to be paid directly to victims as compensation. • Strengthen efforts to enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents and partial or full withholding of wages. • Offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country. • Expand comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and buyers of commercial sex.


The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. The 2019 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 10,000 and 1 million Brunei dollars (BND) ($7,560 and $756,430), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. While the passage of the 2019 law did not substantively change the trafficking in persons criminal provisions under the pre-existing 2004 law, it successfully separated trafficking crimes from migrant smuggling crimes, which are now addressed under a separate law and had been frequently conflated. The penal code also criminalized travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The government may have also utilized Chapter 120 Section 5 of the Women and Girls Prosecution Act, which addresses “living on or trading in prostitution,” to prosecute potential sex trafficking crimes. The act prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000, which were significantly lower than those available under the trafficking law.Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF), labor, and immigration officers referred cases of suspected trafficking to the human trafficking unit (HTU) for further investigation. The HTU also reviewed case reports from other RBPF units to look for trafficking indicators, particularly in cases involving commercial sex, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers. The HTU reported it screened 147 such cases in 2020 for trafficking indicators, an increase compared with 90 cases in 2019. However, of these, the government investigated only three as potential trafficking cases, two of which resulted in non-trafficking charges, and the third, involving Department of Labor (DOL) officials, was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Authorities did not refer any cases to the attorney general’s chambers (AGC) for prosecution; the most recent cases that authorities identified and referred to the AGC were two cases in 2017. For the fourth consecutive year, the AGC did not initiate any new trafficking prosecutions, and the courts did not convict any traffickers under its trafficking statute. The government’s most recent trafficking convictions were of three traffickers in 2016. The government reported high evidentiary standards precluded authorities from prosecuting cases under the anti-trafficking legislation.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses but did investigate and prosecute officials for crimes that increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to trafficking. The government continued to prosecute a Department of Immigration officer and two Bruneian labor recruiters under the Prevention of Corruption Act involved in a case stemming from the previous reporting period. The government charged the individuals with committing visa application fraud in an illegal operation to bring Bangladeshi workers to Brunei on false visa applications without existing jobs. In addition, authorities reported four government officials, including a senior DOL official, were under investigation for corruption related to visa fraud for migrant workers at the end of the reporting period. Law enforcement officials cooperated with a foreign government on an ongoing international trafficking case. The HTU continued to train RBPF, immigration, labor, and anti-vice officers on trafficking and victim identification. In March 2021, 29 law enforcement, labor, and immigration officials participated in a trafficking identification and investigation techniques training course facilitated by the prime minister’s office.


The government maintained efforts to protect victims; while the government created and funded protection mechanisms, it did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with seven potential victims identified in 2019. In January 2021, the government finalized and disseminated national SOPs for trafficking victim identification, referral, and protection to all front-line agencies involved in anti-trafficking efforts; implementation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In some cases, authorities employed identification measures only after detaining victims following law enforcement operations, such as past reports of raids in which police arrested foreign women for prostitution crimes. Officials may have also detained and deported unidentified trafficking victims for labor or immigration violations. Foreign government officials continued to report Bruneian authorities deported several of their citizens after their Bruneian employers withheld wages or medical care and then reported to immigration officials that the migrant workers had run away. According to observers, the practice of detention and deportation perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, exacerbating significant identification and service provision gaps.In its national action plan (NAP), the government allocated 331,000 BND ($250,380) for trafficking victim protective services; 100,000 BND ($75,640) to a trafficking victim assistance fund; and 231,000 BND ($174,740) to two trafficking victim shelters to separately accommodate female and male victims, each housing up to 20 victims. The government had not previously reported allocating a budget to trafficking-specific expenses. The government reported construction of the shelters was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In the interim, the government maintained a secure, general-purpose shelter and provided medical care, counseling, psychological assessment, clothing, meals, and access to vocational training programs and recreational activities to all female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims under the age of 18. The government indicated it would house adult male victims, if identified, in local hotels until the completion of the trafficking shelter. Shelter officials permitted victims to make calls home in the presence of an official from their embassy who could interpret the conversation for authorities. Unlike the previous reporting period, the government allowed victims to freely leave the shelter without a chaperone and stated it would assist victims to find alternative employment. The departments of labor and immigration could grant victims temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; the government did not report granting any victims work passes during the reporting period. The government did not have legal alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s interagency anti-trafficking committee met regularly to review government efforts during the reporting period. In November 2020, the committee finalized the NAP; the plan prioritized protecting victims, raising awareness, and strengthening interagency cooperation and investigation and prosecution efforts. The committee established a sub-committee, which included a dedicated public prosecutor, focused on identifying and investigating trafficking cases and a public relations task force to oversee awareness activities.Brunei’s 2004 Employment Agencies Order (EAO) mandated licensing and regulation of recruitment agents. The EAO prohibited agencies from charging or receiving any form of fees, remuneration, profit, or compensation; however, the labor department continued to not issue guidelines on this prohibition and authorities therefore had not implemented oversight of this provision. DOL required foreign workers to sign their contracts in the presence of a labor officer to prevent forgery, ensure compliance with the law, and enable the labor official to provide information to the worker on their rights and obligations. The public relations task force partnered with an NGO to produce translations of sample migrant worker contracts and employment rights pamphlets in the primary language of regional labor-source countries. Brunei did not have a minimum wage; salary payments were negotiated in individual contracts. Without legal guidance, labor officials could not determine the fairness of the contracts. The 2009 Employment Order did not require employers to provide a written record of terms to employees not covered under the order, namely domestic workers and fishing crews. DOL hosted a series of labor rights workshops to train and raise awareness of the 2009 Employment Order among employment agencies.

Although Bruneian law prohibited employers from withholding wages more than seven days or retaining employees’ passports, foreign embassies continued to report their citizens commonly experienced both practices. The government continued its public awareness campaign with printed materials in English and Malay. A government-owned media outlet published five articles on trafficking and labor rights to spread awareness and educate the public on the rights of foreign workers. DOL provided workers with business cards containing the department’s hotline for reporting labor violations and continued its awareness roadshow to educate the public on labor laws, including on passport retention. However, when labor officials inspected worksites, they only required migrant workers to show a copy of their passport and visa; officials fined 462 employers for not renewing expired workers’ passports held by the employer but did not report taking administrative or legal action against employers for passport retention during the reporting period. Law enforcement officials conducted an inspection of a refinery worksite dormitory and found workers living in unsafe accommodations and without proper employment documents. Authorities issued a stop-work order to the employer and opened an investigation into the undocumented foreign workers; the investigation remained open at the end of the reporting period, allowing the workers to stay in the country with an agreement to conduct monthly check-ins with immigration authorities until all employment documentation was resolved. After two weeks, the refinery resumed operations, after it closed the unsafe living facility and met with the government to review workplace safety and foreign worker regulations. Authorities also reported fining five employers for labor rights violations as a result from worksite inspections. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Brunei. There are approximately 140,000 foreign workers in Brunei, mainly from Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, and China. Men and women migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic service, retail, and construction work. Chinese nationals working in Brunei may have been forced to work by Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises. Upon arrival, traffickers exploit some migrant workers through involuntary servitude, debt-based coercion, contract switching, non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, physical abuse, or confinement. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold the wages from their employees for more than seven days, some employers withhold wages to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel the continued service of workers. Retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remains a widespread practice, although the law prohibits it. Traffickers may force some female migrants who arrive in Brunei on tourist visas into sex trafficking. Some traffickers who exploit migrants in Malaysia or Indonesia for sex or labor trafficking use Brunei to transit victims.