18 October 2011

EU Anti-Trafficking Day - Annual Conference at the Diplomatic Academy Vienna

I just returned from an amazing event at the Diplomatic Academy on the occasion of human trafficking day. A truly intriguing crop of distinguished speakers came together on a ten hour talkathon to discuss some of the (Austrian) dimensions of human trafficking, present their own activities in the field and raise awareness of some of recent policy developments.

The whole day was kicked off by four Ministers as joint keynote speakers, including the ones for the Interior and the Foreign Ministry.

The event was then divided into three discussion panels:

The fight against human trafficking in Austria – successes, goals and challenges
Some of the findings of GRETA (Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings), a peer review mechanism of the European Council, about Austria were presented. Although the report is said to generally give good feedback on Austria, one of the things it recommends is that human trafficking should carry sentences of more than three years (if I'm correct, cases involving minors are punished with up to ten years imprisonment).

The Landesgericht Wien (Regional Court of Vienna) now has a Sonderstelle für Menschenhandel (special office for trafficking in human beings). I tried to find more info about what it does on the internet but without success so far. On 1 June, survivors of trafficking have been given access to the Austrian labour market.

It was quite interesting to hear a case about three Filipino domestic workers who were travelling along with their Middle Eastern employers to a popular holiday resort in Austria (the speaker didn't say which one but I assume Zell am See as it has quite a lot of tourists from the Middle East) and used the opportunity to run away from their slave-like working conditions.

Ms Wagner from the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (based in Vienna) talked about some of the Private Sector Partnerships UN.GIFT engages in. They developed special E-Learning tools for the private sector to raise awareness about trafficking in supply chains. ECPAT Austria (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, based in Bangkok) already launched one specifically for the tourism industry.

As for awareness campaigns in the supply chain industry, it is notable that Schwarzenegger passed a new law about a year ago (the Supply Chains Act 2010) for all companies operating in the state of California (this includes foreign companies who only have branches in California but are registered elsewhere) that not only allows courts to seize any property used to facilitate human trafficking but also requires major retailers and manufacturers doing business in California to disclose on their websites any steps they take to ensure their product supply chains are free of slavery and trafficking.

Another issue in private sector partnerships are CSR campaigns to raise awareness among consumers. There generally were a lot of positive responses from businesses but some are less interested (i.e. they require statistics to 'sell' human trafficking as a campaign to their bosses and executive boards, which due to the invisible and covert nature of human trafficking are obviously hard to come by). In a positive example from Qatar Airways (an airline also popular with Filipino overseas workers), leaflets are distributed to passengers training of flight attendants to identify victims of trafficking. American Airlines had already been running a successful CSR project like this.

She concluded that according to her opinion, the topic was visible enough yet there was not enough public awareness.

Among the topics discussed by the judges in the panel were compensation for victims of trafficking, in particular for their emotional distress, held back wages (in cases of labour trafficking) and corporate loss (ie property). Some of the questions were also regarding evidence, i.e. what legally constitutes 'rape' and 'sexual contacts'. They were happy to report training of defense counsels who did things like use arguments like 'victims of trafficking cannot be victims because they returned to work with their employers'.

There have also been cases where domestic helpers of diplomats were involved. Obviously it is hard to prosecute the employers because of their diplomatic immunity but apparently, there now is a requirement in place that domestic helpers have to be paid by bank transfer.

Other issues discussed were difficulties in prosecuting these cases because of the waiting time until a case is investigated sufficiently and comes to court or because of the 30 day window period survivors of trafficking have before making a statement in order to recuperate a bit from the traumatic experience. However, in practice this window period often works against the victims because sadly but realistically, victims tend to appear more 'credible' in court in the state they are found in and because rom a forensic point of view, the faster a witness gives testimony, the more details they remember.

Human Trafficking as a Human Rights Violation – Protection and Support for Victims
Goodey from the EU's fundamental rights agency (FRA). continued on the topic of the protection of irregular migrants. She also suggested that people who have been trafficked for reasons of labour in slave-like conditions (as opposed to say, the more widely discussed issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation) had access to health care and trade unions should be ensured and that in turn, trade unions increase their efforts to expand their outreach work for this group. FRA and Frontex have been working together on providing training for border guards.

There was a judge from Graz (the capital of the state of Styria) who reported from her experiences in respect to trafficking within her jurisdiction. She reported around 250 cases a year of which only 18-30 (!) lead to convictions. Some of the reasons are that some women decided not to testify on human trafficking but on other other charges, i.e. bodily harm.

The Executive Director from ECPAT Austria discussed the Youth Partnership Project that has been designed for minor survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking. She also reported a good practice from ECPAT UK which integrated survivors into their work: they provide training, work as peer educators and even deliver speeches in parliament.

"Not My Life – Slavery in our Time"
We had the chance to get a sneak preview of the documentary "Not My Life – Slavery in our Time" by Robert Bilheimer, supported by UN.GIFT and narrated by Glenn Close. The movie has been shot over the past four years on four continents and follows children sold to fisheries at Ghana's Lake Volta and minor girls who are or have experienced sexually exploitative conditions in Cambodia, India and the US. It features expert interviews with FBI Special Agents, with some of the survivors, with NGO workers and also some high level politicians involved in one way or another in raising awareness on the issue of human trafficking.

Official website of the movie: http://notmylife.org/

The panel was cut short because it was already very late and most people left for home at the end of the screening but just so consumers of sexual exploitation are mentioned too: They are convicted along with the traffickers in Sweden and Norway. On the other hand, there are men to men campaigns like in one Canadian example. They are peer projects from men who use the services of sex workers to raise awareness about sex trafficking among other men who do.

The full programme of the event with the full list of speakers can be found here:

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