Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


In January 2024, the French administration declared that, ahead of the upcoming Olympics in July, they would set up a platform to report on the "risks of prostitution" in housing so that landlords can be warned,  and sex workers can be evicted. In May, AirBnB, the online home rental platform, signed a convention with the French government to develop a guide to assist travellers during the Olympics in identifying signs of exploitation and in working with police and judiciary. These measures stem from the false moral panic that the Olympics will lead to an increase in trafficking for sexual exploitation.

This blog uses evidence from past mega sporting events to ask the question: is there a way to rewrite the script around these games where the fight against human trafficking for sex and other labour does not harm sex workers?


It is important to ask what perpetuates policies of increased policing, moral panic, and the notion that host cities will witness a rise in sex work and trafficking. Some research attributes this to the media strategy of “sex sells” as news. For example, one research shows that for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, media outlets speculated an increase of 20,000 forced prostitutes being trafficked into the area. Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, this number had gone up to 40,000 women. For the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the figure from media outlets of suspected trafficking victims at 40,000. Sex trafficking was expected to exceed its annual average. These claims of media outlets were not based on any evidence, and there is no follow-up on whether these predictions, in fact, materialised. 

GAATW’s 2010 research, “What’s The Cost of a Rumour” refutes the sensational predictions and finds that instead of a rise, there is actually a drop in demand for sex work because paid sexual services are not affordable and such short-term events are not profitable for traffickers.  The research also contradicts the assumptions that these events are attended predominantly by male fans, thus leading to an increase in demand for commercial sex and, hence, are a rife ground for trafficking. The evidence suggests that the fanbase widely includes, in large part, women and families.

In 2010, GAATW Canada’s research on possible increases in human trafficking during 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games revealed no trafficking cases were reportedly connected to the event and that there was no strong evidence of a significant spike in male demand for paid sexual services.

In London in 2012, brothel raids in five Olympic boroughs went up sharply compared with other areas. Sex workers were subjected to more severe criminal sanctions and policing, including being given extra bail conditions, such as curfews and orders to move out of areas. The Mayor of London reported that the number of cases during the Olympics was the same as in 2011: four.

In 2016, the policies put in place before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro pushed many sex workers to different regions of the city. Research by Prostitution Policy Watch found several instances of police operations that closed sex work venues, arrested sex workers arbitrarily, and violated numerous of their human rights. This research, too, observed a decline in the demand for commercial sex and that the anticipated rise in trafficking did not materialise.

The above evidence points towards a hypersexualised trope built around mega-sporting events. The thread that remains common across these events is the high spending and resource allocation on prevention, which is carceral or persecutory in nature. The over-inflated figures gain a life of their own, purported by prostitution abolitionist groups and politicians who assume that ending sex work will decrease trafficking for sexual exploitation. At the same time, labour exploitation related to major sporting events is barely a point of contention or outrage by these groups, indicating the emotive and ideological nature of sex trafficking. Migrant rights and labour groups repeatedly raised concerns about trafficking, forced labour, and the death of workers connected to Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup preparations. However, the media and anti-trafficking stakeholders often neglect these victims and forms of violence in favour of focusing on trafficking for sexual exploitation.


Evidently, this sensationalism is cyclical and is repeated ahead of all mega-sporting events, including the upcoming Olympics in France. A report titled “Les Jeux Olympiques et Paralympiques: un confinement social pour les travailleuses du sexe” (“The Olympic and Paralympics Games: Social Confinement for Sex Workers” referred to as the JOP report), published by 17 non-governmental organisations specialising in supporting sex workers, highlights the “heightened repression and altered policing strategies targeting sex workers in France.” Citing GAATW’s “What’s the Cost of a Rumour” report, it reiterates that “Trafficking results from poverty, powerlessness, and limited economic options. The supply of trafficking victims is driven far more by these factors than by temporary fluctuations in demand for sex workers arising from sporting events.” 

The JOP report points out that undocumented workers at construction sites for the 2024 Olympics went on strike for exploitative conditions of work. Similarly, the administration’s heightened concerns about exploitation do not extend to residents of squats and homeless people who have been evicted from Paris and relocated to the suburbs. Many of these residents are refugees with precarious living and working conditions, rendering them worse off than before. This contrast begs the question of whether the state-led intervention of “cleansing” the city of sex workers is made more palatable by the rhetoric of anti-trafficking.

In France, since 2016, sex work legislation penalises individuals who pay for sexual services. This movement to “end demand” emanates from an ideology that ignores the collateral damage borne by sex workers as a result of these policies, particularly for migrant or trans sex workers. The JOP report goes on to show how the term “pimping” (which is criminalised in France) often conjures up a violent man, but this is, in fact, deeply flawed. As per the 2016 legislation, the legal definition of pimping includes “helping, assisting, or protecting the prostitution of others.” This definition affects sex workers who assist each other because it categorises them as “pimps,” leading to fragmentation among workers.

The report goes on to highlight that the plan to address trafficking during the 2024 Olympics confuses tackling trafficking with clamping down on sex work. The authors are concerned that these repressive measures will trigger mass evictions of sex workers because most sex work takes place in apartments that are also their homes. The reporting of violence against sex workers will decline significantly due to the fear of losing an apartment or alerting the landlords. It report concludes that the fight against sex work will not lead to the identification of victims of sexual trafficking. 


For over a decade, research has shown that predictions of increased trafficking around major sporting events are overstated and sensationalist. Policies that increase the policing and criminalisation of sex work during major sporting events have also been proven to increase the risk of violence and exploitation and reduce the earning potential of sex workers, while doing nothing to combat trafficking. It is not too late for the Government of France to learn from the previous mistakes made in London, Rio, Vancouver, and elsewhere and abandon this misguided approach. Furthermore, both anti-trafficking organisations and the state need to put an end to misplaced ‘rescue’ responses and recognise sex worker organisations as allies in addressing human trafficking in the sex industry.

Kin Khao Duai Gan Kha/Let’s Share a Meal

Kin khao duai gan kha (let’s eat together) is one of the first phrases I learnt in Thailand. It often marked a moment when strangers became friends. Getting to know and love the food of this country and connecting it with memories of food from my homeland made me feel at home here.

Food brings people together. Sharing a meal with friends and family is one of the simplest pleasures of life. People across the world, rich and poor alike, take pleasure in cooking and eating together. Food memories are special for all of us. Years after we have eaten a meal, we remember its taste and smell, the place, and people with whom we had shared it and how we had felt at that time.


Questions & Concerns

But we can’t talk about food without talking about its absence. About hunger and malnutrition. About the inequality and unfairness in our food systems. About the degradation of environment that we have caused to produce more food. There is enough food to feed everyone, but hunger and malnutrition are a reality for at least 10% of the world’s population. The 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI) projects that the situation may worsen in the coming years. The report notes that unless timely action is taken, today’s youth are poised to inherit food systems that are unsustainable, inequitable, and non-inclusive.

While an increasing number of middle-class people around the world are becoming conscious about their diet and opting for healthy food and organic produce, the urban working class is increasingly reliant on fast food. Yesterday’s smallholder farmers and rural crafts persons are today’s urban migrant workers in precarious jobs. They do not have time or space to grow their own food. Nor do they have money to buy chemical and pesticide-free food. How, then, can low-wage workers ensure that they and their children have enough food and adequate nutrition? Shouldn’t healthy food be available to all at affordable prices? The systemic and policy level challenges to achieving food security for all are overwhelming. But the good news is that activism around food sovereignty is also getting stronger and there are many initiatives in different countries to bring about systemic changes. How can we link their work with ours and learn from them?

Connecting Social Justice Movements

These questions and concerns have become urgent for GAATW alongside our deepening engagement with women workers in low-wage jobs. Women Workers Forum, one of our core programmes, has created a space for intersectoral and inter-movement dialogues among women in a range of low-wage jobs. The specific context of each group is different but there are similarities among them. Some members of the Forum are based in rural areas and work on the land as agricultural wage labourers or smallholder farmers. Thanks to the sustainable agriculture movements and state support, they have a high degree of food literacy. It is the urban workers, often internal migrants, who have a low level of food security. They earn more than the rural women workers, but costs of living in the cities are also higher. Domestic workers who live in their employers’ homes often talk about inadequate food and inability to cook their own meals. Those who live with families in the cities live in cramped spaces. Many also have meagre and uncertain incomes, nominal or nonexistent social protection and long working hours. We wanted to start a conversation about food with them. To find out what they eat, how much nutrition they get and what steps can be taken to make their diet healthy, tasty, and affordable.

Following a discussion with our Thai member Just Economy and Labour Institute (JELI), we decided to co-organise preliminary workshops with two groups of women workers. With World Food Day round the corner, it seemed timely to have conversations about food. Our first workshop took place on 12 October in Bangkok, with a group of gig workers who work in food and service delivery. The other one was held on 14 October in Chiang Mai, with a group of Shan women employed in different informal jobs. JELI works with both groups to support their learning initiatives and collective advocacy.


We invited Studio Horjhama to be our knowledge partner in the workshops. Ann (Sasithon Kamrit), the founder of Studio Horjhama, is a theatre and food activist and an old friend of GAATW. I had met her more than 20 years ago when she was part of the Gabfai Community Theatre Group, a GAATW member that works with Hill Tribe children in Northern Thailand to protect their rights. Ann has now combined her love for the environment, marginalised communities, theatre, and cooking. She works with indigenous communities in Thailand to preserve their food cultures and is an active member of the Food4Change campaign. Led by BioThai Foundation, the campaign mobilises consumers to push for structural change in Thailand’s food system. It envisions “a system where smallholder farmers’ rights are respected, and where small-scale food producers and local vendors can make a decent living, and where the environment is protected from contamination and destructive infrastructure development”.


The Food Literacy Workshop

Workshops on food must include cooking and eating together! And that is what we did.

In Bangkok our venue was the beautiful Growing Diversity Park of Bio-Thai Foundation in Nonthaburi. Ann and her colleague Ut (Chawisa Uotamugn) came from Chiang Mai on the previous evening and were ready to welcome us at the venue. Eighteen women gig workers had set aside their day’s work to participate in the workshop.

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After a brief introduction, Ann and Ut led the group to prepare four simple and tasty items - fresh spring rolls with rice paper, fish and vegetables, a delicious dip to go with it, steamed spring rolls with meat and vegetables, and a clear soup using some easily available and inexpensive vegetables. No MSG was used in the food and all ingredients were sourced from the local organic farmers’ market. “Spring rolls are familiar to us, but these taste so fresh! I can’t believe that food can taste so good even without MSG”, exclaimed Yok, one of the participants. They talked about not being able to grow anything in the city. They also said that their working hours did not allow them much time to cook either, so they mostly bought all their meals. “But I learnt today that I should find some vegetables from my local market and with a little planning I would be able to cook at least a few meals every week”, said Nok.

Soon it was time for lunch and the kitchen staff of Bio-Thai Foundation served a delicious meal for us. After lunch, Ann and Ut led us through some group work. We had to think about the meals we often ate and see if we knew the source of their ingredients. Barring a few, most of us only named the shop from where we bought the food. The last session of the day was an exercise to look at some of the popular snacks available in local supermarkets, read the information printed on the packets, write it down on a sheet and share with the group. As we looked at the information, it was clear to all of us that the popular items such as Lays potato chips, Pocky chocolate sticks, jellybeans, condensed milk, instant noodles, and the Orange Drink have hardly any food value. Worse still, many of these contain ingredients that may cause harm to our health. The ubiquitous convenience stores and the advertising and packaging gimmicks have made these snacks every child’s (and some adults’) favourite. How can local snacks compete with these? Some of the workshop participants said that they will talk to their children about this and encourage them to eat healthy snacks which are available in local markets.

The workshop in Chiang Mai was similar to the one in Bangkok. Studio Horjhama, Ann’s lovely mud-house in Mae Rim, was our venue. The participants this time were women of Shan ethnicity living in Chiang Mai. Although some were migrants from Myanmar, most younger women were born and/or brought up in Thailand. All of them could read and write Thai very well. Some were students doing part-time work in the hospitality sector, others held various odd jobs. Like the gig workers, these women also enjoyed the workshop very much. It made them think seriously about what they eat, where it comes from, what goes into their favourite snacks and what nutritional value it has. Interestingly, some of the participants were students of home economics and food and nutrition are part of their curriculum. They all agreed that healthier and tastier food options are available, and some are within their budget. Some of them also said that it will be possible for them to grow a few things in pots or in their backyard. The first step would be to be mindful and look for options.     

What Next?



Would workshops like this have any impact? Aren’t the problems too big to be addressed by such simple initiatives? Clearly these are not just behavioural problems. It is unfair to expect working class people to change their habits when nutritious food is very expensive. The states have a big role in making healthy food available to all.

But we need to start somewhere. I am not sure if all participants will completely stay away from junk food. But now they will surely think twice about it. At least some of them will be able to resist the temptation and opt for real food.


Some of our participants in the Bangkok workshop became very concerned by information they saw on two posters in the meeting room of Bio-Thai Foundation. One was worrying statistics from the Bureau of Nutrition in the Ministry of Public Health (2021) that the child stunting rate among Thai children aged 0-5 years is 11.7% and among children aged 6-14 years it is 9.7%. The other poster shared findings from recent research carried out by Thai-PAN, which found that 67% of the fruits and vegetables at five supermarkets and 11 provincial markets had chemical residuals that exceeded the allowed limits. . As Ann explained, it is ironical that the level food safety and security is going down in Thailand which is considered the World’s Kitchen!

Organisations and networks such as Bio-Thai, Thai-PAN, Slow Food-Thailand, and many others are working at community and policy levels to change the current food system in the country. Similar organisations and movements are active in other parts of the world too. Change may take time, but it is possible.

At GAATW we can try to bring the knowledge created by our colleagues in the food sovereignty movement to the people we work with. We can integrate some of the sustainable practices into our work. These conversations on food that we have started with women workers should continue. 

Here is to many more meals together then! Or as the people of Akha tribe say, Horjhama/Let’s go and eat!

(With grateful thanks to the members of Women Workers Forum in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Keng and Yao from JELI, Ann, Ut and their team at Studio Horjhama and friends at the Bio Thai Foundation.


Picture Credit: Alfie Gordo, GAATW

Text: Bandana Pattanaik, GAATW


Meeting domestic workers over a meal of miang pla tu



Visit Summary


MAP FOUNDATION AND GAATW | 17 September 2023

On a rainy mid-September morning in Chiang Mai, 20 women migrants from Shan state in Myanmar were gathering outside the MAP Foundation office. Their bright pink, red and maroon clothes were in stark contrast against the grey, cloudy sky. Some had come on their motorbikes, others had taken one or two public buses to reach by 8:30. The women were domestic workers and had come on their day off to attend a Food Literacy workshop organised by MAP and GAATW

By 9 AM, everyone had boarded the songthaews that took us to Mae Rim, a short 30-minute trip from Chiang Mai. It was not a quiet ride. The women were making selfies and videos, chatting about food, work, employers, and partners.

MAP is a Thai NGO that provides assistance to migrant workers in the region and advocates for their human and labour rights. The organising of migrant domestic workers is led by Pim, a migrant worker from Myanmar. After working as a domestic worker for nearly 17 years, and after attending many trainings by MAP, Pim is now part of the organisation’s staff. Her presence helps to create a link between the GAATW team and the workers.


By 10 AM, we reached our destination in Mae Rim: Studio Horjhama. We walked into a mud house and verdant home-cum-workshop space curated and run by Ann-Sasithorn Khamrit. Ann was once a dramatist with the Gabfai Community Theatre group, a GAATW member that uses theatre and art to engage with rural communities. For the last seven years, Ann has shifted her focus to food security and the message that food choices can change the world for the better. She procures products from local producers who practise organic and sustainable farming. She then spreads knowledge about local food preparation styles through different mediums like mobile kitchens, grocery cars, collaborative campaigns, programmes for children and workshops like this one. She was the facilitator for the first session of the day. Her past work, cultural sensitivity and awareness helped in creating a cohesive learning environment.


The mud-house studio reminded many of the women of their own homes in Shan state. Welcomed by Ann and her team, we gathered around a wide wooden table. The cooking menu consisted of miang pla tu (mackerel, vegetables and spices wrapped in rice paper), dried fish soup and dumplings.

Pim explained that this workshop was a way of strengthening women’s knowledge in preparing food, as well as a space for gathering of peers. A recent ILO report argues for skills recognition of domestic workers as a way of improving their working conditions and ability to choose employment. This calls for a shift away from the perception of domestic work as unskilled labour despite the range of skills that women apply in these roles.

For the women in our workshop, their working conditions are heavily controlled by the employers and for many, their documentation and registration are tied to the employers, which means they have very little bargaining power. In the past, they recognised behaviours that were physically abusive or exploitative and quit those jobs for better ones.

“I left the restaurant because of my abusive employer. He was angry and he hit me once. After that, I met a nice woman who gave me work at an orange orchid. She did not pay me but gave me a place to stay and three meals a day”, said one of the domestic workers. She doesn’t work at the orchard anymore.


The room was filled with the aroma of the ingredients. The women took turns to chop, pound, mix, fry and plate dishes. As we concluded the cooking segment of the workshop, the women were thrilled by the flavours, techniques, and how they didn’t have to use MSG, which is perceived as unhealthy or addictive by many. Ann introduced ingredients that can be used as an alternative to MSG for umami flavour like sun-dried fish. She taught us how to maximise the use of ingredients by using all parts of it in different segments of the cooking process and encouraged waste reduction in food preparation. We also learnt about food presentation. While many of the women said they would use these techniques when cooking for their employers, they also said they would use these with their children and parents.

For the second half of the day, we discussed the barriers to sustainability being a self-organised group. This session was translated from English to Thai by a Thai-speaking local translator who was also part of MAP Foundation staff a few years ago. We invited Pim to share her vision for the group as she has been working with domestic workers for several years. She shared that what she meant by sustainability was for the group to become a cooperative and have independent resources to run their activities. In the future, she hopes that the group will be trained to fundraise and be less dependent on others, including NGOs. The social enterprise of making and selling dishwashing liquid was one such example of raising funds. Similar collectivised efforts by the members based on their skills can be upscaled to building a cooperative.


Overtime work is one of the biggest barriers to sustaining the group. The women spent their limited time off for their own chores and family and had very little time for group activities and regular meetings. To understand overtime work better, we did a clock exercise where women mapped their work day on a 24-hour clock. The clock was divided into time spent at work and on themselves and personal chores between the hours of waking up and going to bed. More than half of the women worked up to 16 hours a day. Those who do not live with employers worked multiple jobs, in two or three households every day. Some also worked in massage parlours, food stalls or selling goods.

The women who lived independently worked much longer because they wanted to earn more income. The women who live with employers worked overtime but to a lesser extent. They shared that they were often interrupted during rest or meals or were monitored by their employers. Nearly all of them were penalised when they tried to take leave outside of the mutually negotiated rest days.

It was a good sharing amongst members of the group who learned about the work conditions of other women. The clock exercise was used to self-reflect and to construct a context in which the lived experiences of the group members can be seen as a source of information to empower other members.

Many of the women were single mothers and wanted their children to have access to education. They were proud to be ‘leaders of their family’, who earn and save money, raise children and pay school fees, and support parents, children and save for the future. Some also said they had greater sexual autonomy. This was met with laughter but also with agreement. Often considered indecent or bawdy, the topic of sexual freedom and expression gets very little space for discussion.

When asked about why it is difficult to get more women to join the collective, we received two responses: first, that the women are shy and lack confidence. And second, they think about joining only when they need some help. The group believes that it takes time to build trust and connection reflecting on their own journey with the group.

In Thailand, the access to labour rights by domestic workers depends on the type of employers. If they are directly employed, which was most in this group, they are outside the purview of the Labour Protection Act. This means, among others, no minimum wage, maximum hours of work, and no overtime compensation. However, those who are employed by businesses are covered in full by the labour law. There were very few of them in this group.

The group discussed breach of labour rights and its absence for domestic workers like minimum wage, rest days and difficulty in changing jobs. MAP Foundation focusses on educating workers about their rights through in-person trainings and MAP radio, which discusses the rights of domestic workers every Friday from 12 to 1 PM. Women said they listened to it and were sometimes invited as co-hosts.

Apart from not being paid minimum wage, the workers were also frustrated by their working conditions, wage deductions for taking leave, late payments, and having to depend on their employers for their registration and documentation.


At the end of the day, the workers said they were happy to be part of such a self-organised group because it gave them the support to deal with various situations with employers or documentation as migrant workers in Thailand.

Written by Srishty Anand


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