Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, at the public event on the Liechtenstein Initiative for a Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is not an easy assignment. Our theme is very technical, and very complex. But also very important. And I only have a couple of minutes. So I won’t go into all the details of the Commission. There are people who are far better placed to do that than me, and more knowledgeable than me as well.
Instead, let me say something about the photos we see here all around us.
Behind me you see four photo’s. Let’s talk about Nina. She got married at a very young age. For six long years, she was a victim of sexual exploitation by her in-laws in her own country. They trafficked her to the Netherlands with the aim of exploiting her here as well. Fortunately, the Dutch police caught her husband and brought Nina to safety in a shelter.
Now, why would anyone – let alone her own husband and relatives – do this to Nina? Because they wanted to make money. It’s as simple, cynical and immoral as that. Human trafficking is very profitable.
Other victims are also portrayed in this room today. The photo exhibition, called Open your Eyes, is an initiative by CoMensha, our national coordinating centre against human trafficking. In this room and in the lounge there are 30 portraits. They show that human trafficking is happening everywhere, under our eyes. On our watch.
Modern slavery and human trafficking are, unfortunately, very lucrative. Profits are estimated at 150 billion dollars a year.
We don’t need to go far to see the magnitude of the problem; a joint report by our National Rapporteur and UNODC estimates that here in the Netherlands there are between 5,000 – 8,000 victims per year.
The financial motive is the main incentive for criminals involved in this business.
Incredible suffering is the consequence.
Victims receive virtually no payment for what they are forced to do. Whether we’re talking about sexual, labour or criminal exploitation, the ultimate objective is to profit financially from exploiting other people: vulnerable children, women and men. These merchants in misery take other people’s most precious good away: their freedom. And too often, these criminals can walk around freely.
And yet, there is also good news. Glimmers of hope. Because the solution is clear. In order to tackle human trafficking, we have to disrupt the business model. How? By improving the exchange of information between the public authorities and the financial sector.
And by cooperating closely to catch these criminals. As we emphasised in our national action plan, ‘Together Against Human Trafficking’, we are working to make smarter use of information from financial flows. And one thing is certain: we can only do that if the financial sector helps us. If there is true cooperation with a common objective: to disrupt the business model. To stop human trafficking.
Now, I know this isn’t always easy. In fact it’s a massive challenge. I was once a banker myself. In fact, it was my first job. I worked in the financial sector for 10 years before starting my political career. So I do know something about financial complexity. But the mere fact that something is complex and difficult doesn’t mean we should just give up. We are talking about financial Corporate Social Responsibility. And it works, as a preventive mechanism too. These criminals are looking for ways to invest their dirty money. It’s up to us to make their life much harder.
The efforts of the Financial Sector Commission, aimed at assisting the public and financial sector in combatting human trafficking, are essential in this endeavour.
When Minister Frick, who unfortunately could not be here today, asked me to join her Liechtenstein Initiative, I agreed immediately. And I should like to thank minister Frick, and ambassador Wenaweser, for their leadership. And for their efforts in bringing us all together. It’s very important that we join forces and enhance international cooperation between governments and the financial sector.
So we can track down and arrest the perpetrators, and prevent more people like Nina from being exploited.
The Netherlands’ participation in the Liechtenstein Initiative is also motivated by our general commitments in this area. By imposing sanctions for example. Within the EU, we are working to blacklist human rights violators and cyber criminals. In the UN, we’re following up on our initiative in the Security Council last year, to impose sanctions on human traffickers in Libya. When it comes to the implementation of those sanctions, national and international action by governments and the financial sector is essential. This is about finding and freezing the financial assets of the listed human traffickers.
The experts directly involved in the Libya case have discussed our ambition to hunt down financial assets of these criminals with the Financial Sector Commission. Only through international cooperation at all levels can human trafficking be stopped and traffickers punished.
Yes, we need to work with the financial sector. But we also need to work with our counterparts: other ministries, municipalities, NGOs and the wider business community. We need to open our eyes and not look away.
We need to work closely, relentlessly and effectively with everyone involved towards one common goal: to disrupt the criminals’ business model and stop human trafficking.