Human trafficking

A young Cambodian woman looking at herself in the mirror.
Most recorded victims of human traficking originated from South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and West Africa © panos

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

Being both a transit and a destination country for human trafficking, Switzerland is not spared this global scourge. Threat, constraint, violence and deceit are means to force women and men into prostitution, or to exploit their labour. Human trafficking takes place in a clandestine environment, which is why it is difficult to determine the full extent of the problem. In 2014, 46 cases were recorded in police statistics, and 15 criminal convictions of human trafficking were handed down (under article 182 of the Swiss Criminal Code).

Most recorded victims originated from Eastern Europe, South-East Asia, South America and West Africa.

Swiss commitments and initiatives

Switzerland plays an active part in multilateral mechanisms and makes significant efforts towards the development of international policies and 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 topical domestic policy issues 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 Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (KSMM), created in 2003 and attached to the FDJP, the FDFA acts as a centre of expertise on matters of human trafficking in accordance with Swiss foreign policy. It makes its expertise and international contacts available to Swiss actors involved in the issue.

A global phenomenon

It is difficult to make accurate global estimates of the number of victims of human trafficking. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) observes that:

  • 49% of detected victims are women,
  • 18% are men and
  • 33% are children (girls and boys).

In Europe alone, an estimated 880,000 persons have been exploited in slave-like conditions in 2013, according to a report by the European Parliament.

The UNODC notes that sexual exploitation (prostitution, paedophilia, pornography, forced marriage) and trafficking for the purpose of forced labour (begging, bonded labour and domestic servitude) account for 93% of human trafficking cases in the world.

The UNODC has identified a fall in the number of women among 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, with an estimated USD 32 billion turnover.

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”.