MA International Relations students discuss Human Trafficking at the United Nations | Webster University Thailand

MA International Relations students discuss Human Trafficking at the United Nations

By Rebecca Canak

unOn 28 November, graduate students of International Relations at Webster University Thailand met with UN-ACT to discuss issues related to human trafficking. UN-ACT, which stands for United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons, was established in 2014, and is a UNDP 1 project ensuring a coordinated approach to more strategically and effectively combat trafficking in persons in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and beyond. 

The field trip, led by Dr. Latifa Laghzaoui of Webster University, was an opportunity for students to learn from professionals in the field and ask questions on important issues regarding international relations. It also allowed students the ability to gain firsthand experience in a professional setting by engaging in open discourse and observing behind-the-scenes work at the local UNDP office in Bangkok.

The meeting started with a presentation by George May and James Eckford, two interns at UN-ACT who hosted the event and were kind enough to devote two hours of their time to share their work with us. UN-ACT works in conjunction with the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking, or simply “COMMIT”, which was established in 2004 as an effort for countries to work together to better combat human trafficking in the GMS. Member countries include Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“We work to establish links with broader actors in the region, for example ASEAN, and then use those partners to implement the research,” said May during the presentation.

May and Eckford gave students an overview of the work being done at the organization by sharing the four key outputs which UN-ACT hopes to accomplish with its research. These four key outputs include: efforts to strengthen the COMMIT Process to be more sustainable and self-reliant; increasing cooperation between countries; providing increased access to evidence-based 1 United Nations Development Programme research to policy makers, academia, non-governmental actors, and the public; and helping civil society and other non-governmental actors contribute more efficiently to anti-trafficking efforts.

“We also work to facilitate civil society voice, especially with youth and vulnerable populations,” added Eckford, noting that youth involvement was an effective strategy in combating human trafficking.


Students were excited about this unique opportunity to learn and engage in dialogue regarding human trafficking in Southeast Asia including Thailand. The presentation was followed by an hour of group discussion, in which students shared their own knowledge and experiences working in related fields.

“It was a very educational experience – there’s only so much an organization can do with so much politics in the way and I’m happy to have learnt of the UN’s involvement in fighting against human trafficking in Thailand,” said IR student Emmanuel Okpala.

Afterwards, students were given a tour of the UN compound which included a visit to the main conference room where global dignitaries and NGO representatives meet to discuss important issues of international relations. Students were also given the opportunity to see the photo exhibition about the “Don’t Tell Me How to Dress” campaign, founded by Thai activist Cindy Sirinya Bishop, which works to combat sexual violence against women.

The visit concluded with a group photo under the UN’s iconic flag display, leaving students with an increased sense of motivation to do their part in the global fight against human trafficking. On behalf of the MAIR students at Webster University Thailand, we offer a sincere thank you to our hosts at UN-ACT for sharing their knowledge and afternoon with us.