Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

The UN Working Group on Trafficking in Persons: Negotiating harmful ideas behind closed doors

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.

Domestic Workers Convention Enters Into Force

GAATW calls on governments to ratify ILO 189

5 September 2013

The landmark Domestic Workers Convention is in legal effect today, bringing the promise of human and labour rights protections to millions of workers, most of whom are women and girls, many of whom are migrant workers. GAATW calls on governments to ratify and implement this global treaty.

Adopted in 2011 and now ratified by eight countries – Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay – the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers establishes standards for the millions of workers whose labour is often hidden from view in private homes. Domestic work in private households accounts for nearly one third of all female employment in Asia Pacific and is the largest driver of women’s labour migration in the region. GAATW Member Organisation ATKI-HK is one of many domestic worker groups actively campaigning for the ratification of this global treaty.

Often excluded from countries’ labour laws, domestic workers are at disproportionate risk of human rights violations by their employers, or the employer’s family members and friends. These may include withheld wages, forced confinement, excessively long working days, no time off, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Conditions can constitute forced labour or trafficking. The Convention affirms the protections to which domestic workers are entitled, including minimum wage, limited working hours, weekly days off, written contracts setting out the terms and conditions, and decent living conditions. The global treaty also calls on States to ensure effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence, and promote and protect fundamental principles and rights at work, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Today we celebrate the success of the domestic workers movement in achieving this important milestone in the work to realise their rights and call on governments to act promptly to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Statement on international governance delivered at the Informal Interactive Hearings on International Migration and Development on 15 July 2013

Action theme 4: Migration governance and partnerships
Intervention delivered by Kate Sheill, International Advocacy Officer, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women 

Thank you Mr/Madame Moderator

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is an international network of over 100 independent NGOs. We locate trafficking in the context of labour migration and see a rights-based approach to migration, safe migration and migrants’ rights, including worker rights, as the best hope of ending and preventing trafficking in persons.

The international human rights framework needs to be the primary framework for the intergovernmental governance of migration. There is still resistance to and lack of knowledge that migrants, including irregular migrants, have (with just two exceptions) the same rights as citizens. It is through the human rights framework that we can address violations of migrants’ rights and ensure access to justice.

Human rights-based labour standards, improved working conditions, and allowing workers to organise across all sectors, irrespective of their migrant status, will reduce opportunities for the exploitation of labour, including migrant labour. But these labour laws and protections must apply to all forms of work, including those often not covered, such as in the informal sector and sectors dominated by women workers.

Migration is a key factor in the development of countries of origin and destination – and development needs to be rights-based. The UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP) clearly places poverty eradication and development within the context of human rights.

Human rights are the common thread between all of the international cooperation frameworks we work with in our work on migration – including refugees, labour standards, trafficking in persons, women’s rights, and child rights.

  • We need a space for dialogue and exchange to ensure coherence on migration and human rights across these frameworks. The UN is that space.
  • There have been many advances toward ensuring that migrants, migrant workers and their families, can live with the equal dignity and respect to which all persons are entitled. We need a body mandated to track – and ensure coherence between and follow up on – these developments in migrants rights, such as those by the UN treaty bodies and special procedures.
  • At the very least, or as a starting point, the mandate of the Global Migration Group needs to be expanded to take on more than information sharing and given more of a leadership role. It needs to be focused on and guided by the international human rights framework.
  • Indeed, we need for human rights to be central to the mandate of all the intergovernmental bodies and experts involved in the international governance of migration.

Participation is a fundamental principle of human rights and must be central to the rights-based approach to migration. Civil society must be able to access and participate in the intergovernmental spaces of migration governance – and it has been good to hear affirmation of that from several States today. However, too often migrants are absent from the discussion on their rights. We need to do more to achieve the genuine participation of migrants, regardless of status, in migration policy development and implementation. 

To conclude, we call on States to use the occasion of the second High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development to reaffirm the centrality of international human rights law as the primary framework for the intergovernmental governance of migration and civil society’s – and migrants’ – essential participation in that work.

Thank you.

Written statement for the Informal Interactive Hearings on International Migration and Development (15 July 2013)

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a network of more than 100 non-governmental organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America. We have been researching human trafficking and learning from trafficking survivors for nearly twenty years. 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.

Human trafficking occurs in the context of labour migration. The majority of trafficked persons are migrant workers in the informal, unorganised and unprotected sectors.

The risk of exploitation or violence neither deters migrants nor should be used to prevent migration. Instead, States need to learn from migrants’ experiences to improve provisions for safe migration that benefits the migrant worker, their families and communities, and the State, as remittances contribute to the GDP of countries of origin. As the UN Secretary-General has stated, for women migrants “[i]nternational migration can be an empowering experience for women: women may leave situations where they have limited options for ones where they exercise greater autonomy over their own lives, thereby benefiting themselves as well as their families and communities.”[1]         

Instead, we often see States wrongly criminalising or otherwise clamping down on irregular migration, often in the name of preventing trafficking in persons. This is often at odds with a demand within their country for migrant labour that will, when combined with a lack of regular migration opportunities, push migrant workers into taking more dangerous routes, paying disproportionately high fees that may leave them in a situation of debt bondage, entering into work sites without good training, and will often leave them with nowhere to turn to if they face exploitation and abuse.

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GAATW Statements in PDF

Human Rights Council - Twenty-third session, Agenda item 3 (17 May 2013), Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,  including the right to development
Written statement submitted by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women to the Human Rights Council 23 Session on the need for a critical approach to ‘demand’ discourses in work to end human trafficking


Statement by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women to the High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (13-14 May 2013) - Delivered by Avaloy Lanning of Safe Horizons, a GAATW Member Organisation

Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
21st session (23-27 April 2012)
Agenda item 5(a): Ratification and implementation of the UNTOC and the Protocols thereto
Statement delivered by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) on the Review Mechanism

Human Rights Council
Twentieth session, Agenda item 3 (June 2012)
Written statement submitted by the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women - Reducing the risk of human trafficking by increasing the opportunities for safe migration