Coordination between international agencies to combat trafficking in human beings, by Caroline O’Reilly, Strasbourg, September 2010

Delivered at the Committee of the Parties of the Council of Europe Convention on action against Trafficking in Human Beings, 13 September 2010

Statement | Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France | 16 September 2010

On behalf of ILO, I welcome the invitation to speak at this 4th meeting of the Committee of the Parties, and to speak alongside my colleagues from the sister UN agencies and other key international partners.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings has created an effective regional standard, which has strengthened international law against human trafficking, in particular its human rights dimensions. Its provisions are very much in line with ILO’s core labour standards and comments made by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.

The Convention has now been ratified by 30 Council of Europe member States – both source and destination countries for human trafficking. This in itself is a success, as cooperation across countries is of key importance in both preventing and prosecuting trafficking.

The focus of this meeting today is on another key aspect of cooperation -- partnerships among international organisations. No one can argue against the need for coordinated action against a problem as multi-faceted and global as human trafficking. It has been restated many times, most recently in the Global Action Plan adopted by the UN General Assembly in August this year. But of course, the real and continuing challenge is to move from the level of declaration of intent to effective and practical action, that is, to go beyond the conference podium and into the real world. This is just as true for international organisations as for the many different national and regional institutions that aim to work better and closer together. I will first say a few words about some of the aims and challenges of coordination between international organizations before going on to present an example of successful cooperation in which ILO has been involved.

Trafficking can be approached from different angles: a human rights perspective, a labour market perspective, a criminal justice perspective. UN agencies as well as regional organisations have their distinct mandates and each adds value to the cause. In the ILO, as a labour organization and in line with our mandate, we aim particularly to address the labour exploitation, and specifically the forced labour, that results from human trafficking. The ILO Forced Labour Convention still holds the honour of being the most widely ratified of all ILO standards, with 174 ratifications by member states. ILO also has a special concern with child trafficking and forced labour, which are among the worst forms of child labour as defined by ILO in1999. This Convention comes a very close second in numbers of ratifications – at 172. These are twin problems that people and countries care deeply about and wish to act against.

The ILO approach focuses especially on tackling the root causes of trafficking, such as weak labour market governance, ineffective labour migration and recruitment systems, discrimination in the labour market, and lack of local decent work opportunities for adults, and good educational opportunities for younger children and vocational training for older ones. My first point then is that effective coordination first requires recognition of respective mandates and strengths. I believe that considerable progress has been made in this respect since the adoption of the Palermo protocol, though this has taken time. It’s important also to use fully the existing instruments available to our respective organizations, developing new ones in response to specific gaps or needs. A case in point is the new international labour standard on protection of domestic workers, to be adopted at the ILC in June 2011. It will contain provisions aiming to ensure protection from forced labour and trafficking amongst this most vulnerable, unrecognized and unorganized group of workers.

Second, we need a shared understanding of the nature of the problem. Conceptual clarity and agreement on basic definitions must underpin action if we are all to be pulling in the same direction. While progress has also been made in this regard, the debates on definitions nonetheless continue. In national legislation, countries have quite rightly adapted the international definitions to better suit their own situations and needs, in different ways. In the ILO, we differentiate between the process of trafficking and the outcome of forced labour. We believe that different legal entry points make sense in different national contexts. And we welcome the now broad recognition that human trafficking is not just about sexual exploitation of women and girls, but also about labour exploitation of both sexes, adults and children.

Another area I would like to highlight is the need for a coordinated approach to research, data gathering, including approaches to monitoring and evaluation. Without some agreement on minimum standards for research and common definitions, we will continue to be beset by difficulties on non-comparability of data across countries and institutions. There are a number of efforts underway on harmonisation of data collection in the EU, and the ILO is an active partner in these. One of these initiatives was the production of the so-called “Delphi indicators” of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, a collaborative undertaking between the ILO and the European Commission. But such efforts need be further developed, and to extend well beyond Europe. We also need to do better with respect to systematic and comparable monitoring and evaluation of policy and programme interventions. I am quite sure I am not alone in suspecting that a lot of wheels are being reinvented around the world, mistakes unfortunately repeated and good practices being confined to small-scale, pilot initiatives. In this era of information overload, but equally one in which there are tremendous opportunities for innovative communication methods, we need to work hard and together to devise much more effective means of making our respective lessons learned more widely and easily available to policy and decision-makers in both public and private sectors alike.

Coordination requires not only political will but also financial and human resources to sustain such efforts. It does have a short-term actual and opportunity cost, even though we firmly believe that in the long-term it pays off – although again, we need to document the evidence to prove this. Over recent years, international organisations have gone through a learning process, not only in terms of understanding the problem of trafficking and how it can best be addressed, but also about how we can most effectively work together. UN.GIFT is an example of such learning and improved understanding. It was quickly evident that money alone would not solve the problem of lack of coordination. It is equally important that each agency has an equal say in how action should be coordinated and what form it should take. The challenges of coordination should not be underestimated, especially in the face of our different mandates, constituencies and partners, bureaucratic procedures, sizes and of course the common pressure on and, dare I say it, competition for scarce resources, both within and outside our organizations. But the fact that coordination is challenging is certainly no excuse for not doing it to the very best of our ability.

Coordination needs to happen at all levels, but is often easiest and most effective at regional level. The Council of Europe alongside OSCE and the EU have important roles to play in this respect. ILO supports such regional initiatives, such as OSCE-led Alliance against Trafficking in Human Beings and the coordination meetings of EU national rapporteurs. Coordination among European Union and Council of Europe member States – though it may often be perceived as protracted – has helped raise standards on victim protection. Institutions such as Europol and Eurojust have helped improve coordination regarding the prosecution of trafficking crimes. These are examples of good practice that could be replicated elsewhere.

Let me briefly give you one example of cooperation, led by ILO. With financial support from the European Commission, ILO started an initiative on the development of a comprehensive anti-trafficking response in the Southern Caucasus - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - in 2007. Recognizing the expertise of other international agencies, it approached OSCE and the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development to become partners. IOM is now included in a follow-up project. Inter-agency cooperation has yielded significant results. For example, it has helped establish national referral mechanisms – a concept that was first developed by OSCE. It has strengthened national action plans and monitoring mechanisms – a thematic area in which ICMPD has accumulated knowledge and expertise. It has raised awareness among prospective migrants and directly supported victims – an area of comparative advantage of IOM. And last but not least, it has engaged employers, private employment agencies, trade unions and labour administrations in policy and action against human trafficking and forced labour – core strengths of the ILO.

To conclude, I know we are unanimous in believing that coordinated action is essential. Let us be equally unequivocal in putting our words into practice and demonstrating that it works.

Caroline O’Reilly

International Labour Office, Geneva

Head, Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL)