Human trafficking

A young Cambodian woman managed to escape after being kidnapped and transported to Bangkok. ©panos

Switzerland deems human trafficking a crime and a grave violation of human rights. The FDFA aims to make a meaningful, visible and genuine contribution at the international level to preventing human trafficking and protecting the victims.

Human trafficking in Switzerland

Switzerland is both a target and transit country for human trafficking. Human trafficking takes place in a clandestine environment, which is why it is difficult to determine the full extent of the problem. In 2012, thirteen final convictions of human trafficking were handed down (article 182 of the Swiss Criminal Code).

In 2013, most of the victims originated from Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, but some also came from Asia (in particular Thailand and China), South America (Brazil) and Africa (Nigeria).

Swiss commitment and initiatives

Switzerland plays an active part in multilateral mechanisms and makes significant efforts towards the development of policy and international standards against human trafficking, for example within the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The FDFA is working for better cooperation between the Swiss authorities and actors from the countries of origin of the victims, and supports numerous programmes to combat human trafficking. For example, it regularly organises international round tables with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on a topical domestic policy issue in coordination with the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to strengthen international collaboration and promote the exchange of experiences.

As a member of the steering committee of the Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (KSMM) created in 2003 and attached to Fedpol, the FDFA acts as a centre of expertise on matters of human trafficking in accordance with Swiss foreign policy and makes its expertise and international contacts available to Swiss actors involved in the issue.

A global phenomenon

Approximately 21 million people were victim to human trafficking in 2013 according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that sexual exploitation (prostitution, paedophilia, pornography, forced marriage) and trafficking for the purpose of forced labour (begging, bonded labour and domestic servitude) are still the most widespread of these crimes. They make up 94% of human trafficking.

It is difficult to gauge precisely the scale of the issue because of the underground nature of the practice and because victims are reluctant to give evidence. Nevertheless according to estimates:

  • 60% of those affected are women
  • 13% are men and
  • 27% are children (boys and girls)

The UNODC has identified a fall in the number of women who are victims of human trafficking, but an increase in the number of young girls. The perpetrators of this illegal trade are predominantly male nationals of the countries in which they operate.  Alongside drugs and arms trafficking, human trafficking is one of the most lucrative activities in organised crime.

International normative framework

The first international agreement to define human trafficking features among the “Palermo protocols” signed in 2000. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children was ratified by Switzerland on 27 October 2006.

According to the protocol, the term “trafficking in persons” means “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” Exploitation includes but is not restricted to “the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons in which the member states tasked the UNODC to collect information and release bi-annual reports in close collaboration with national authorities on human trafficking patterns and flows of trafficking in persons at the national, regional and international levels.

Additional information