La Strada International (LSI) is the International Secretariat of the La Strada network. LSI focuses on international networking, lobbying and public relations on behalf of its member organisations as well as producing common policies, action plans, harmonised lobbying and advocacy programmes. La Strada spoke to us about their work as a network secretariat and working with members.
Can you explain the nature and work of La Strada International? How does the network support its members?
La Strada International (LSI) was established in October 2004 to formalize the existing informal network/project cooperation among the La Strada partners, which had existed since 1995. LSI aims to prevent trafficking in human beings and to ensure adequate assistance and protection to trafficked persons and risk groups in Europe. The current eight independent human rights member organisations are based in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Each La Strada International member implements both direct social support programmes for trafficked persons and national-level prevention programmes for specific target groups.
All members are represented in LSI’s General Assembly, which is responsible for electing the international board. The network is represented by an international secretariat with the same name (La Strada International) based in Amsterdam. The secretariat was set up specifically to assist member organisations and harmonise their work. The secretariat’s work focuses on international networking, lobbying and public relations to ensure that human trafficking is addressed at a European political level. It further maintains and expands relations of the La Strada network with national and international organisations and NGOs; supports capacity building of the members and; provides a forum for European NGOs on the issue of human trafficking. Currently, 10 other NGOs are affiliated with LSI’s NGO platform.
Core activities of the International Secretariat also include information collection and research. LSI operates an online database at all offices. The database requires common client registration and contact information. This database allows members to directly report national facts and figures on trafficking patterns, cases and practices. LSI international secretariat is further responsible for common strategy planning, policy development and capacity building.
To summarise, the LSI secretariat ensures that the voices of its national members are heard at international fora; shares its expertise and offers consultation and capacity building to members where needed (e.g. on European legislation); facilitates contact (e.g. for referrals or for strategic issues or funding applications); and organises common meetings.
Can you give us an example of joint advocacy strategies between LSI and its members? What are the challenges of a network secretariat?
In line with the overall strategic plans of the network, the LSI secretariat develops lobbying and advocacy strategies, policies and action plans for the network. For these plans, the members provide input and provide feedback. An example of a collaborative strategy between the secretariat and member was the COMP.ACT project. LSI lobbied for compensation for trafficked persons and the members lobbied at their national level. The focus was different between members: some lobbied for a compensation fund, others for specialized judges.
Another example of close work between the secretariat and its members was the GRETA monitoring of the Council of Europe. The Secretariat encouraged LSI members and other NGOs to provide GRETA with input from civil society and react to the report that was released. At the secretariat, the national and international lobby groups worked together and maintained close contact with the GRETA secretariat.
One of the challenges in acting on behalf of a network is that we often work on commonalities between the members. That is to say, the context in which our members operate is quite diverse and each country’s needs are different and do not necessarily match with other countries. So we are not always able to take differences between countries into account. For example, four of our members are not part of the EU yet our international lobby is often linked with developments and actions within the EU. However, we try to ensure that our European lobby supports all our members and where possible, provide links for national lobbying efforts. If needed, we will support one member by providing them with specific information and arguments or take up their issue at an international level.
What are the major challenges in addressing trafficking in persons in Europe?
The main challenges for anti-trafficking NGOs are related to the implementation of national and international policies. Good legislation is in place but a lot more awareness is required among all stakeholders. Also, more commitment is required to ensure that policies are implemented well.
Furthermore, policies in linked spheres, for example on migration and prostitution, can negatively impact the protection and assistance of trafficked persons. In general, it is give attention both by international governments and national governments and all LSI member countries have national action plans and legislation in place. In most countries, there is also a coordinating body and NGOs are invited to provide consultation and feedback on policies and actions plans. NGOs are also responsible for a specific part of the country’s national referral mechanism in providing assistance to trafficked persons or, in the Netherlands, the registration of trafficked persons.
The challenge for NGOs is to be heard by different stakeholders and for their comments to be taken seriously. Furthermore, it is difficult for NGOs to remain independent while at the same time remaining financially viable to continue their work. Over the last few years, it has been very difficult for anti-trafficking NGOs to become financially sustainable for several reasons. Firstly, there is a lot of competition between different stakeholders for EU funds and secondly the more traditional donors and governments have less funding available for anti-trafficking work. This has meant that anti-trafficking NGOs are often dependent on project funding from which to do their core work.
What are your current activities focused on?
Alongside LSI’s efforts to have certain legislation implemented, LSI is focusing on the monitoring of anti-trafficking policies. In particular, we are providing our members and affiliated NGOs with information on monitoring tools (and promoting these tools) and building their capacity on the issue. We also hope to work more on monitoring our own services, not only to improve the network and organisations but to make us more financial sustainable in the long term.
We would like to extend our network to new stake holders and currently we are strengthening the LSI NGO platform. We are currently planning or involved in several international projects linked to this. Firstly, LSI is collaborating with KOK on a project concerning the data protection of trafficked persons. We are also working on data sharing and improving data collection with Polaris (a US-based organisation). LSI also joined two international research consortia to support two research projects next year. One project is exploring demand and other is focusing on traffickers. Furthermore, LSI started a project last year called NGOs & Co that aims to engage the business sector in addressing human trafficking. This is a new area for us.
Lastly, we would like to improve our own data collection and data analysis.