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GAATW and the Freedom Network call on the US House of Representatives to drop H.R.4703

24 July 2014

The International Secretariat of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) and the Freedom Network (USA) condemn a new bill, introduced into the US House of Representatives by Congressman Hultgren, which seeks to put pressure on countries that “do not prohibit the purchase of commercial sex acts”. If passed, bill H.R.4703 will amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to demand that the State Department take a country’s prostitution laws into consideration when determining its rankings in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Placement in the lowest tier of the Trafficking in Persons Report can trigger sanctions including the reduction or loss of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.

GAATW and the Freedom Network believe that this move is not about preventing human trafficking or protecting its victims. Under the guise of addressing trafficking in persons, the amendment instead seeks to include efforts to eradicate prostitution. Creating such a strong link between prostitution and trafficking in persons is not uncommon but it is mistaken. GAATW has documented the harm done to sex workers, migrants and to people who have been trafficked by anti-trafficking laws, policies, programmes and initiatives that conflate the two.

There is no evidence that criminalising or otherwise penalising sex workers’ clients has reduced either trafficking in persons or sex work. International law on trafficking in persons makes a distinction between prostitution and trafficking. The USA’s international anti-trafficking work too makes this distinction plain, as several countries in the top tier of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report – i.e. those countries who meet the minimum standards for addressing trafficking – indeed do not criminalise sex work. If anything, we can look to the 14 years of the Trafficking in Persons Report as the evidentiary link that sex work and trafficking are not connected.

Debates in anti-trafficking work about demand need to be grounded in evidence in order to move beyond simplistic “supply and demand” analogies and misguided efforts to “end demand” for sex work, a framework that is not applied to trafficking in other labour sectors. GAATW instead calls on the US government, at home and in its international advocacy, to focus on ending exploitative labour practices across all sectors for all people and support labour organising, as part of a strategy to prevent human trafficking. This should include consideration of decriminalising sex work and practices around it, as a strategy to reduce the opportunities for exploitative labour practices in the sex sector.


The text of bill H.R.4703 is available at The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

GAATW has researched the limitations and impacts of “end demand” approaches in anti-trafficking work: Moving Beyond ‘Supply and Demand’ Catchphrases: Assessing the uses and limitations of demand-based approaches in Anti-Trafficking . GAATW’s report, Collateral Damage: The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World, reviews the impact of anti-trafficking measures on human rights and some of the negative consequences of those measures.

GAATW is a global network of over 120 independent NGOs. The Alliance takes a human rights-based and feminist approach to trafficking in persons. GAATW promotes rights of women migrant workers and trafficked persons and believes that ensuring safe migration and fair work places should be at the core of all anti-trafficking efforts.

The Freedom Network was established in 2001 to promote a human rights-based approach to human trafficking. The Freedom Network is a coalition of 40 service providers and individuals working directly with survivors of human trafficking across the United States. Freedom Network was established by a group of organisations and individuals who bring decades of experience from a diverse set of backgrounds, such as immigrant women and children’s rights, victim and social services, migrant farm worker advocacy, and human rights activism. The Freedom Network recognizes that human trafficking is fuelled by complex and interconnected factors, including poverty and economic injustice, racism, gender-based discrimination, and political strife. At its core, the crime of trafficking is a violation of an individual’s basic rights and personal freedom. Thus, we believe that a rights-based approach is fundamental to combating human trafficking and ensuring justice for trafficked persons.

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103rd Session of the International Labour Conference
28 May – 12 June 2014, Geneva

I would like to thank this Conference for the opportunity to speak on behalf of Anti-Slavery International and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women.

Everyone here is aware of the ILO estimates of a minimum of 21 million children and adults in forced labour and that the profits from this exploitation are estimated to be $150 billion per annum.

That is a dreadful indictment of how we conduct our business today.

We are no longer living in a 1930's world. Today the expansion of globalisation means that the international law governing the contemporary realities of trade has become vital. Hence this Conference is the essential forum where the dark side of these new realities must be confronted, not with fine words and voluntary approaches, but with robust international law.

Unless robust action is taken to extend the rule of international law against forced labour the routine enslavement of marginalised workers will continue to be at worst facilitated and at best tolerated in the global political economy.

So, as the UN Special Rapporteurs on Slavery, Trafficking and Migration have recognised, a binding Protocol is required to ensure coherent international action. This is necessary to prevent a minority of unscrupulous businesses and corrupt political elites from systematically using forced labour to derive competitive advantage over the vast majority of honourable business executives and politicians who are striving against all odds to make a better world for their employees and their citizens.

We therefore appeal to this Conference to seek a binding Protocol with a strong Recommendation to the Convention that will require states to ensure law and practice that effectively identifies and protects victims of forced labour, giving special consideration to the particular risks faced by migrants, women and children and to ensure that the perpetrators of forced labour compensate their victims; that require states ensure their courts and law enforcement have sufficient capacity to ensure effective rule of law against forced labour so that states create a level playing field for ethical business, declaring also their expectations of business action to eradicate forced labour from their supply chains and how businesses should disclose their efforts towards these ends; that requires states and employers to promote freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers; and that encourages states to incorporate into their aid, trade and diplomacy measures to reduce the risk of forced labour.

I am sure that everyone in this room is abhorred by the idea of forced labour and slavery. However that is not enough. This Conference has the power to do something directly about its realities. It is the duty of everyone here to demonstrate that they are as opposed to the idea of slavery in practice as they are in principle. If this Conference fails in that task then the judgment of history and of conscience will be harsh.


LSIStatement 17December

Today, on 17 December, the LSI NGO Platform - United against human trafficking in Europe[1] calls to end violence against sex workers and for the protection and promotion of their human rights.

Globally, sex workers face many forms of violence. Due to the often criminalised status of sex work and the stigma that sex workers face, violence against sex workers remains nearly always unpunished. We believe that violence against sex workers needs to be addressed by protecting their rights and investigating and prosecuting all violent offences against anyone working in the sex sector.

However, this approach to end violence against sex workers is hard to put into practice if sex work itself is considered as violence against women. Equating sex work with violence against women leads to criminalising the industry, clients and sometimes even sex workers themselves. As a consequence, sex workers are not recognised as rights holders and are deprived of the tools to protect themselves from violence and seek redress. Criminalisation deprives them of their income without offering an alternative and it stigmatises and marginalises both domestic and migrant sex workers. It drives the sex industry even more underground, which results in less access to health, social and legal assistance for sex workers, and significantly lower chances to identify individuals who have been trafficked.

The call for criminalisation of clients of sex workers is also made in the name of preventing and combatting trafficking in persons. The members and partners of La Strada International, unified in the LSI NGO Platform – United against human trafficking in Europe, have supported many women and men who were trafficked in the sex industry in the past nearly two decades. We know from experience that criminalisation does not solve any of the problems that our clients face, nor does it prevent or stop human trafficking.

We do recognise that the sex industry is one of the economic sectors in which human trafficking occurs, as it does in other sectors, in particular those where workers are invisible, unprotected, excluded and disempowered. Therefore, we believe that sex workers rights organisations, just as trade unions, are important allies in the efforts to protect workers from exploitation, violence and abuse and to prevent trafficking in human beings.

By equating sex work to trafficking in persons, the very complex phenomenon of human trafficking is narrowed down to a moral issue, an approach that fails to address the economic, political and social root causes of trafficking. Furthermore, trafficked persons in all other industries are not recognised and remain unprotected.

The conflation of sex work and trafficking in persons leads to inadequate counter-trafficking policies and to counter-productive prostitution policies. The two issues are both complex and need their own individual approach and policy. As UN Women declared in their ‘Note on sex work, sexual

exploitation and trafficking (9 October 2013): “... the conflating of consensual sex work and trafficking in human beings, leads to inappropriate responses that fail to assist sex workers and trafficked women in realising their rights. Furthermore, failing to distinguish between these groups infringes on sex workers’ right to health and self- determination and can impede efforts to prevent and prosecute trafficking.”

Since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol in 2000, the focus in the international anti-trafficking debate has widened to exploitation, violence and abuse in all industries and economic sectors. Unfortunately, the conflation of trafficking in human beings and prostitution has lately re-emerged

in several European countries and also in the European debate on combating trafficking in human beings. LSI NGO Platform is worried about these developments as we believe that they do not contribute to the protection of sex workers from violence and abuse, nor do they address the root causes of trafficking in human beings. We are also worried that this focus on sex work leads to a polarisation in the international counter-trafficking debate, which takes away the focus from what is needed now the most: the protection of the rights of those who have been exploited, violated and abused.

[1]  The LSI NGO Platform - United against trafficking in Europe aims to strengthen the cooperation in Europe (EU and Non-EU)among civil society organisations combining practical work with trafficked persons and affected groups with political advocacy for human rights based policies to eradicate trafficking in human beings 

October 2013

US-based NGO Equality Now has launched a campaign against some UN research into HIV, human rights, and sex work, which concluded that States should decriminalise sex work. GAATW-IS regrets that it is necessary to make clear that not all anti-trafficking organisations support the claim made by Equality Now that decriminalising prostitution will increase human trafficking. On the contrary, GAATW’s years of experience working on trafficking in persons, all over the world, has led us to the opposite conclusion. GAATW-IS advocates for the decriminalisation of sex work, for labour rights for sex workers, and the conceptual de-linking of sex work and trafficking in persons (for example here). We have documented the harmful effects of anti-trafficking measures on specific groups of people, such as the sex workers who are affected by raids on brothels carried out ostensibly to find people who have been trafficked, a finding echoed in the Sex Work and the Law report. Such a bias in approach also often overlooks other forms of labour trafficking.

The reports that have triggered this call to mobilise against the UN are the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s 2012 report, HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health, published by UNDP, and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific, also published in 2012,  by UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS. GAATW-IS thank these agencies for their work on these reports – for their focus on the health and rights of, and for their collaborative approach with, sex workers. Recognising sex workers as partners in the work on HIV and human rights is an important step to ending the epidemic. It is a good practice that should be repeated in all other research on issues that affect them. We also welcome UN Women’s recently shared position statement on sex work, sexual exploitation and trafficking. We call on UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS and UN Women and other relevant UN actors to promote this research and the good practice that produced it and work towards implementing the recommendations.

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.