An Update on Don't! Buy! Thai!
December 20, 2000
In response to all those who have asked about (and strongly supported) "Don't! Buy! Thai!" while it was still operational, we want to say that many things have changed since we began our effort. For one thing, Thailand is no longer the major offender, nor is the traffic so concentrated in any one country. And Thailand appears to have changed both its laws and its enforcement to some significant extent (numerous authenticated reports of child sex tourists being imprisoned there; no longer being billed as "Pedophile Paradise" by the freak groups, clear evidence of international cooperation against perpetrators, participation of organizations such as UNICEF with prosecution, etc.).
Since the first wave of such prosecutions, the Thai government appears to have changed its attitude toward certain "visitors." But, while word is slowly reaching the professional pedophile "community," Thailand still attracts those who perceive they can continue their "life–style" with relative impunity. Perhaps this is the reason that Thai media recently provided a personal forum for a high–status pedophile, believing that the self–justificatory boasting of this individual also reveals the fact that those of his ilk are not necessarily "safe" in Thailand any longer.
Besides, the viability of boycott is limited when the targeted economy is already deeply in the toilet. The latest International Stock Report highlighted the two countries in SE Asia doing the best:
South Korea: +41.6%
and the two doing the worst:
source: Money Magazine, January, 2000 issue, p. 156
In fact, the political–economic situation is such in Thailand that internationally–respected journals such as The Economist are currently advising against any investment in that country.
This has resulted in far more money leaving Thailand than any boycott could have accomplished, and maintained pressure on that country to reform those of its policies (not limited to child sex tourism) which discourage foreign investment.
It should be noted that it was the past policy of the Thai government to counter all accusations against its conduct by acknowledging "some" offenses, but claiming that the real villains were other Southeast Asian countries. See, this Italian effort for example.
There, the issue was child labor. And the Thai government response was the same as it was (originally) to the accusations of child sex tourism.
Finally, the reason for the Don't! Buy! Thai! boycott was never so much economic as consciousness–raising ... we wanted to make the world aware of what ECPAT [End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism] and other organizations had been documenting for years. For example, Kritaya Archavanitkul, demographer and human rights activist, said: [Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley ... go here for the full text ] ... on the subject of "Emerging Issues in Human Rights in Southeast Asia"...
"I have a mental block with the word 'help,' because to me the word seems to imply that you have a different status. What I would suggest, I think the proper term is 'support.' So the question is how to make people in different countries support us, support the movement, support the idea. I think we can do it many ways. You can financially support us, in terms of investment in education for the young girls in some areas that have no access to primary education. Or you could even have a protest in your county. I saw once on an Internet home page, "Don't buy Thai." It said not to buy Thai because in Thai society they have lots of Thai prostitutes and child labor. Protesting this way, you can support us indirectly. You may get some government departments who listen to this Internet message and try to fight back. But also you would provide pictures from Thailand to the users in the United States so they can learn what is happening in Thailand. But the users themselves, the people themselves, also have to bear in mind that you have to check the information. I don't say that "Don't buy Thai" is 100% correct or 100% incorrect but the message makes many people concerned about what's happening in Thailand. So that's one way to support what we have to work for."
(We are not taking credit for it, but) the world did find out, partially because of the tireless work of various individuals and agencies, partly because of investigative journalism, partly because of first–person accounts, and partly through "fiction advocacy," such as that practiced by the incomparable Adam Hall and the fearless Alan Grant. Some countries even passed "extra-territorial" laws (here's one example, so that child sex tourists could be prosecuted in their home countries for crimes committed in foreign jurisdictions, and specific prosecutions of those using Thailand for such purposes did occur. The U.S. law has also evolved, and more child sex tourists are now being prosecuted. Indeed, some countries passed laws against child sexual abuse for the first time in their history. Since the first wave of such prosecutions, Thailand apparently changed both its own laws and its law enforcement, and word has slowly reached the professional pedophile "community."
There is no question but that Thailand felt the heat. Stories in major national media (see Parade, see CNN) only increased the pressure. In fact, we were directly contacted by the Royal Thai Government and members of the Thai Parliament. The Thai government continues to press for attention to its campaign against "sex tourism," a campaign which necessarily impacts exploited children.
Even the Don't! Buy! Thai! site (which is no longer being independently updated) has a major section entitled "It's Not Just Thailand" ... and our current position is that, while we believe in the viability of economic sanctions in the human rights arena, we believe the boycott against goods made in Thailand has already achieved its purpose. [Note: this is not to say that we believe children are no longer prostituted in Thailand, just that the practice has been internally acknowledged, impacted to some extent, and that Thailand is no longer the international symbol of such exploitation.]
In summary: Yes, we have made progress. But we are hardly ready to declare victory. Continued pressure on all involved governments is necessary, but those fighting child sex tourism use "boycott" as a symbol, a way of focusing attention as opposed to economic crippling ... especially because the latter is impossible in countries which engage in the foul practice but have no "products" to "boycott" at our end.
There are many reasons to act against child labor, slave labor (in China, prison labor is slave labor), and all labor practices which exploit. And Thailand is hardly the worst offender in those categories, either. Runaway plants, manufacturers shifting to cheap overseas labor at the cost of American jobs ... all those are valid issues which require our support. But we do not see them as connected to child sex tourism.
So the struggle goes on. But the concentration on Thailand, and the use of "boycott" as a weapon in that war, has ended.
Please note: the above statement represents The Zero only. It does not purport to speak for any others engaged in efforts against child sex tourism. Nobody "owns" a boycott, and we understand that others will act (and react) as they choose. Simply put: the Don't! Buy! Thai! boycott is over for us, for the reasons explained above. Whether it is over for anyone else is up to them.
While members of "Don't! Buy! Thai!" boycotted goods made in Thailand, they also financially contributed to the:
DAUGHTERS DEVELOPMENT & EDUCATION PROGRAMME
... which was the leading NGO (non-government organization) working to protect rural children from being "bonded out" to pimps in Thailand. Members learned of the organization and its work through a meeting with its Director, Hon. Sompop Jantraka. This meeting was arranged by USAID (United States Agency for International Development) as a result of the attention drawn to the boycott, and followed by other meetings and correspondence. Like many other activists, Director Sompop Jantraka never supported the Don't! Buy! Thai! boycott, but understood its intent and was able to make common cause with us on direct action to protect local children.
AS ALWAYS, ANY POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTOR TO ANY ORGANIZATION ALLEGEDLY ENGAGED IN CHILD PROTECTION SHOULD THOROUGHLY CHECK OUT THAT AGENCY FOR THEMSELVES BEFORE SUPPORTING IT IN ANY WAY. THE ABOVE STATEMENT REFERS TO PAST FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS OF SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS; IT DOES NOT IMPLY CURRENT ENDORSEMENT IN ANY WAY!