Human Trafficking

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The 23rd Annual Conference on the OSCE’s Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons

Today we are delighted to introduce our newest Honorary Research Fellow, Eva Veldhuizen Ochodničanová, who provides an overview of the recent Annual Conference on the OSCE’s Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons, at which she represented the Wilberforce Institute.

Eva Veldhuizen Ochodničanová
Eva Veldhuizen Ochodničanová Child Protection & GBV Expert- Ukraine Crisis Response

On 18-19 April 2023, The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held its 23rd annual conference on the Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons. The Alliance gathers key stakeholders from across OSCE’s 57 participating states in North America, Asia and Europe, aiming to raise the political profile of the fight against trafficking in human beings, as well as to discuss emerging topics and trends in this area. This year, on the 20th Anniversary of the OSCE’s Action Plan on trafficking in human beings the focus lay with national leadership.

Day one began with a high-level opening session. The keynote address was provided by the OSCE Secretary General, Helga Maria Schmid, Bujar Osmani, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Theresa May, Ravshanbek Alimov, Chair of the Committee on International Relations and Foreign Economic Relations of the Senate of Uzbekistan and Pramilla Patten, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Following this, a series of international organisations and NGOs presented on the current scale of modern slavery, including the International Justice Mission, the Justice Defence Fund, the Freedom Fund, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Council of Europe.

The second day was opened by a panel of survivor leaders of modern slavery: Sophie Otiende, the CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery; Jane Lasonder, the Founder of Red Alert Task Force and Jordan Masciangelo, the Creative Director of MenHealing. The second panel that morning focused on anti-trafficking architecture, with interventions delivered by the national anti-trafficking coordinators of Finland, the United States, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Netherlands. After a series of side events held in the early afternoon, the closing panel focused on ‘Best Practices for combatting Modern Slavery’, with examples delivered by the Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, the Minister of Justice of Spain, the National anti-trafficking coordinator of Romania, the Permanent Representative of Norway to the OSCE, the Head of the Cyprus Financial Intelligence Unit and the representative of Israel’s Cybercrime department.

Across the two days, the aim of the conference was to allow the 250 attending participants to reflect on the key ‘building blocks’ of an effective state anti-trafficking response and positive examples of anti-trafficking leadership.

Eva Veldhuizen Ochodničanová

Throughout the conference, several key themes emerged. First, special emphasis continued to be placed on the War in Ukraine and the associated risks of modern slavery accompanying the resulting refugee flows. Interventions from the European Union, the United States and the Holy See among others expressed concern specifically around the forced deportations of Ukrainian children to the territory of the Russian Federation.

OSCE’s Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons Eva blog may 23
Delegates at the conference

Attention continued to be placed, in addition, on the need for proactive investigations into trafficking and modern slavery cases. As the UNODC’s 2022 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons illustrated, globally 41% of recorded victims of trafficking and modern slavery have to rely on ‘self-rescuing’ to exit their exploitation. However, we know that barriers to reporting these crimes are nearly always insurmountably high: traffickers threaten, deceive and coerce victims to keep them from reporting. Furthermore, victims are often afraid of reporting in fear of punishment for crimes they may have committed as part of their exploitation or in fear of deportation. As such, the fact that almost half of victims are forced to rely on self-reporting is evidence of poor proactive investigation into these crimes, due in part to a lessening of political will to combat modern slavery. Despite this, the estimated figures of modern slavery have increased to 50 million globally, which Theresa May called ‘the greatest human rights issue of our time’.

Finally, digital forms of exploitation have risen, and were noted as a critical challenge to OSCE member states’ ability to respond to modern slavery, particularly modern slavery for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Andrea Salvoni, OSCE’s Deputy Coordinator for the office of the Special Representative on Trafficking in Human Beings, highlighted the rise of criminal exploitation in online scamming operations as an example of the escalating digital transformation of the modern slavery landscape.

Despite the willingness of the attending parties to address these emerging and ongoing challenges, across the participants there was a mutual understanding that political momentum to combat trafficking had decreased globally. One intervention by a French NGO, ScaleUp, illustrated this effectively: ‘the world spends 40 billion euros on combatting drug trafficking per year. Human trafficking, which is the second most profitable criminal industry in the world, by contrast, receives just over one billion euros per year. It is not enough.’

As the Wilberforce Institute’s newest Honorary Fellow, it was my pleasure to represent the Institute over the course of these two days, and to highlight particularly the work of the Institute in conducting training in combatting trafficking in human beings in Poland and Bulgaria for frontline professionals as part of the national Ukraine Crisis Response. It’s my firm belief that it is essential for institutions like the Wilberforce Institute to be in attendance at global anti-trafficking forums such as that provided by the OSCE, to illustrate the importance of academia in developing anti-trafficking policies in an evidence-based manner. 

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