The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women raises concerns about this week’s meeting in Vienna, Austria (6 to 8 November 2013)
Bangkok, 6 November 2013
The UN Working Group on Trafficking in Persons, which NGOs are barred from attending, will hold its fifth meeting this week in Vienna, Austria. On the agenda are discussions on consent, demand and “forms of exploitation not specifically mentioned” in the Trafficking Protocol (agenda and background papers are available online). GAATW-IS is concerned about the UNODC’s exclusion of NGOs from this meeting given the centrality of these issues to States’ responses to trafficking in persons. Trafficking cannot be tackled by a single stakeholder. NGOs and other elements of civil society are named as actors in the UN Trafficking Protocol and should be part of discussions on the development of understanding of the Protocol.
The Working Group’s background paper on reducing the demand for trafficking in persons states, “Trafficking in persons can be tackled from both the demand and supply perspectives”. GAATW’s 2011 report, Moving Beyond ‘Supply and Demand’ Catchphrases, reviewed the limitations of this approach. Focusing on demand can, and the Working Group’s background paper does, mask significant structural factors that need to be addressed, including poverty and restrictive immigration measures, and ignore migrants’ and workers’ own demands, motivations, aspirations, resistance strategies and recommendations. Efforts to end or reduce demand are often focused on the claim that criminalising or otherwise penalising sex workers’ clients is necessary to end trafficking. There is no evidence that this approach has reduced trafficking in persons or sex work, but it wrongly conflates the two issues and increases stigma against sex workers.
Whilst the travaux préparatoires (official records of the negotiations of the Trafficking Protocol) make clear – and as the background papers on demand and exploitation remind States – the language of the definition of trafficking in persons is “neutral” on prostitution. We have seen many State and non-state initiatives extend their counter-trafficking measures to include sex workers. Sometimes, as the national examples included in the background paper on exploitation demonstrate, States do include prostitution in the definition of trafficking in national law, sometimes they use the language of “sexual exploitation”.
It is not practical to list every form of exploitation that would be covered by the Trafficking Protocol. However, the use of vague and undefined terms is leaving too much room for measures that go beyond assistance or prevention and instead do harm. GAATW-IS and others have documented how migrants and other workers who have not been trafficked are regularly being caught up in counter-trafficking measures. This violates their human rights and distorts our understanding of and data on the issue. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking calls on States to distinguish “between measures which actually reduce trafficking and measures which may have the effect of transferring the problem from one place or group to another”.
GAATW-IS calls on States attending the Working Group meeting to pursue a framework for understanding forms of exploitation, that would apply across all labour sectors including within the sex sector, and could be used to help frontline workers better recognise exploitative labour practices wherever they occur, without profiling workers on the basis of race, gender, caste, or other factors. Such a framework should urge States to stop the over-extension of counter-trafficking laws, policies, programmes and initiatives to workers who have not been trafficked. This should be developed with the participation of trafficked persons and other migrants who have experienced abuse and also with others who have first-hand experience of the harmful effects of counter-trafficking and anti-immigration measures.
The UN Working Group on Trafficking in Persons is mandated by the UN Conference that meets every two years to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the implementation of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, including the Trafficking Protocol.
GAATW-IS wrote to UNODC requesting permission to attend the Working Group meeting, but was denied by the UNODC. We were subsequently invited to travel to Vienna to organise a lunchtime side event (meeting) during the days of the Working Group meeting.