“New Swedish ambassador to combat trafficking in human beings”

Opinion article, Dagens Nyheter (DN Debatt), 4 May 2016

Sweden is intensifying its efforts to combat the exploitation of women, children and poor people in the world. As the world’s first feminist government, we are creating a new position for an ambassador to combat trafficking in human beings. The position may serve as an important instrument in international cooperation, write Minister for Gender Equality Åsa Regnér and Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.

Trafficking in human beings is one of the most serious forms of organised crime and a modern form of slavery. It is a violation of human rights and has a very strong gender equality and child rights perspective. This is why, as the world's first feminist government, we are now creating a new position for an ambassador to combat trafficking in human beings.

It is estimated that more than two million people are trafficked into slavery each year. Almost four fifths of the victims – mostly women and underage girls – are sold into the sex industry. Human trafficking does not affect individuals alone; it impacts the very structure of a democratic society by stripping individuals of their integrity and human dignity. It is a consequence of poverty and corruption, but also of a lack of gender equality. In many parts of the world, women and children are in an extremely vulnerable situation.

The offence of trafficking in human beings is a supply chain offence, consisting of many different stages, including the recruitment and transportation of victims, prostitution, trafficking in human organs or exploitation on the labour market. This criminal activity most often crosses national borders and involves serious violations of human rights.

The Government wants Sweden to be a strong voice in the world for gender equality and human rights. Women and men must have the same power to shape society and their own lives; children's rights must be strengthened. This means that the particular vulnerability of women and girls to human trafficking must be combated with the best possible measures. Sweden's efforts must contribute to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda on gender equality and children's rights. The transnational nature of the crime also demands effective international cooperation and increased coordination alongside national measures.

This is why the Government is creating a new position as Sweden's ambassador to combat trafficking in human beings. It will send an important political signal to the international community that Sweden is intensifying its efforts to combat human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children and of poor and desperate people throughout the world. Ongoing wars and conflicts, and the ensuing migration, have further aggravated the situation for many women and girls at risk of being exploited and abused.

The ambassador will strengthen Sweden's international profile as a leading human rights defender. At the same time, the position may serve as an important instrument for concrete measures to improve the effectiveness of international efforts and cooperation. Through the ambassador's work, Sweden will also help to ensure that particular attention is paid to the gender equality perspective in international efforts to combat trafficking in human beings. Sweden has much to contribute, and as a nation it can serve as a good example through the Swedish Sexual Purchases Act.

The ambassador will facilitate dialogue between various governments, national agencies and international organisations on issues focusing on the prevention of and protection against trafficking in human beings, and on the prosecution of perpetrators. The position will contribute to increased knowledge and quality in the work of relevant Swedish government agencies.

Sweden's ambassador to combat trafficking in human beings will work to:

• identify and encourage the interest of other countries in cooperating to combat trafficking in human beings, possibly through concluding bilateral agreements with Sweden, focusing on combating human trafficking and other serious crime, and actively contributing to this work;

• help share Swedish experiences of discovering and prosecuting the perpetrators of human trafficking, and protecting and supporting its victims internationally;

• advance and strengthen the gender perspective in international efforts to combat trafficking in human beings by influencing other countries to adopt legislation that criminalises the demand for sexual services, similar to Swedish legislation;

• ensure that abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children come to an end;

• identify success factors and positive experiences in efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, and make them known both internationally and among relevant Swedish government agencies;

• represent Sweden at various international events focused on issues related to trafficking in human beings;

• contribute, through international advocacy work, to a more uniform interpretation of the Palermo Protocol's definition of trafficking in human beings in the countries that have acceded to the Protocol to increase, in the long run, the chances of prosecuting involved perpetrators;

• create/resume an international network of actors (international NGOs, religious leaders, companies, professional associations, media and other opinion-makers) who through their actions can contribute to both combating human trafficking and its social and economic root causes;

• generate interest in, spread knowledge about and increase expertise on trafficking in human beings among employees at Swedish missions abroad and other Swedish actors stationed abroad, as well as at Swedish companies and organisations that have representatives who work abroad;

• conduct a dialogue at home with the Swedish government agencies and NGOs that work on human trafficking issues;

• report to the Government on the progress of international efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, and contribute to Sweden's periodic reports to international convention committees or to other international reviews of Sweden's human rights commitments;

• strengthen the image of Sweden as a driving force in efforts to combat human trafficking and its causes, through contacts with other governments and through identifying future partners; and

• consult and cooperate with specialised structures in the UN, the EU, the Council of Europe, the Council of the Baltic Sea States and other relevant intergovernmental organisations in their work to combat human trafficking, and actively push to coordinate their action.

International cooperation on these issues involves a number of actors. At global level, the UN has a coordinating role concerning the efforts of relevant UN organisations. At EU level, there is an Anti-Trafficking Coordinator. INTERPOL and Europol are also dealing with the issue.

The Government and relevant government agencies are working constantly to combat human trafficking. Sweden is associated with human rights and democracy. Human rights are women's rights. Trafficking in human beings must be stopped.

Åsa Regnér
Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality

Margot Wallström
Minister for Foreign Affairs