Posted on

4 June 2021

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In recognition of Thailand’s National anti-Trafficking in Persons Day, 5 June, ASEAN-ACT Thailand Country Manager Apiradee Thienthong reveals her start and growth in the field.

For Apiradee Thienthong, her change in career began with the Asian ‘Tom Yum Goong’ financial crisis which started in Thailand with the collapse of the Thai Baht in 1997.

“That day when financial institutes closed, I re-thought my career and wanted to run my own business.” Apiradee ‘Api’ says this prompted her to transition from fund manager and stock analyst to work in small-medium enterprises (SMEs).

Born in Nakhonpathom, just outside of Bangkok, Apiradee would never have predicted the next career shift when she was head-hunted by ChildFund International to manage their finances and develop accounting packages and trainings for farmers and communities.

“It was the first time for me to work in the non-profit sector and to add words like poverty and development to my vocabulary,” she said. It was this initial experience that was the seed for her interest in regionalism, looking at benefits beyond the country-level.

Her career now spans close to twenty years with various high-profile international development programs, with the bulk of experience in the field of counter-human trafficking.

However, it was when she was new to the field, Api worked hard to ‘catch-up to peers by reading a lot of books’, which eventually led to extreme levels of reading for a PhD dissertation on ASEAN responses to human trafficking problems, in particular migration cases from Myanmar to Thailand.

Misunderstandings and myths

Apiradee is still profoundly affected reading human rights legislation and cases, in contrast to her days as a stock analyst reading profit and loss statements.

“It is always heartbreaking to read that a girl is being beaten with iron by her employer, or ears are being cut with scissors. The stories are classic, as in they just don’t change – women continue to be deceived, coerced and exploited.”

She has heard, and sometimes overheard, law and justice officials discuss stories and myths. “People believe only women are victims of trafficking, however in recent years we have seen many examples of men trafficked on fishing boats or boys exploited.”

Apiradee is reluctant to boast career achievements, but admits some highlights include: working on the TIP progress report for government, coordinating the research team on the Regional Review on Laws, Policies and Practices of ASEAN on TIP, leading research on compensation for victims of trafficking in persons, and initiating research for alternative victim-shelters as Deputy Chief of Party for a USAID counter-trafficking in persons project.

Her modesty may be a condition of her current role as the ASEAN-ACT Thailand Country Manager, a heroic part that she plays behind-the-scenes.

“We are part of the government’s success. We are helping support Thailand and ASEAN member states to implement the ASEAN Convention against TIP. We are not only working with Ministries and policy makers but also justice practitioners. Now our focus has expanded to collaborating with NGOs, civil society, research institutes and private sector too – they all play an important role in countering-human trafficking not only nationally, but regionally.”

This skillful art of negotiation is how Apiradee and her team brings people together, adapting their approaches when meeting high-profile government officials, organising seminars for prosecutors or facilitating bilateral meetings for cross-border police investigations.

“I am a big picture person and enjoy leading and collaborating so that we work towards the same goal and vision,” she says.

Change and progress

In the same timeframe as Apiradee’s successes in the field, ASEAN established legal instruments to combat human trafficking, such as the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) ratified in 2017 by six ASEAN member states.

Apiradee says even though there is still much work to be done, Thailand has made significant progress to combat human trafficking.

This includes improving Thailand’s tier ranking in the US TIP report and prioritising anti-trafficking initiatives in Thailand’s national agenda.

She credits advocates who have been championing trafficking issues, including the Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha whose commitment to the cause has helped to familiarise trafficking terms with the broader public. 

“When trafficking in persons is raised as a big issue, people start to realise it doesn’t just affect one person. It’s like a spider’s web; it involves all dimensions, all actors, agencies and initiatives.”

Perhaps it is that web approach which has led to Apiradee’s success. By casting a new web to change careers and to thread new ideas, she can change the world.

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To bust more human trafficking myths, like the ones mentioned by Apiradee Thienthong, visit aseanact.org/myths.

The Australian Government funded ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking is a 10 year $AU 80 million commitment to continue Australia’s long-running collaboration with ASEAN to end trafficking in persons in the region.