February 15, 2023
Thailand has long been one of the world’s major sex tourism destinations. Estimates of sex work’s contribution to GDP vary widely because the industry operates almost entirely underground. But in 2015, the black market research company Havocscope valued it at $6.4 billion per year—about 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP that year.
Despite earning billions annually, the industry is effectively illegal, controversial among Thais, and highly stigmatized. Now, the debate over sex work is spilling into public forums, with a progressive lawmaker introducing a bill in parliament to legalize it. Its proponents argue that criminalization has deprived sex workers of basic labor rights and protections enjoyed by other workers, making them more vulnerable to health risks, harassment, exploitation, and violence—while making sex work itself no less visible.