Fight against human trafficking

The Netherlands is bolstering its approach to human trafficking. We are improving shelter and care for victims, intensifying our efforts in terms of tracing perpetrators and attempting to identify these forms of exploitation more quickly. Since human trafficking occurs in a variety of forms and in a variety of sectors, a wide array of parties need to be involved for an effective approach. So the government is joining forces with a large number of different partners who are directly involved in dealing with human trafficking on our streets and in our neighbourhoods and cities, such as local authorities, the police, the public prosecution service, the healthcare and education sectors, and national and international NGOs and organisations. This was enshrined in the Samen tegen mensenhandel (Together Against Human Trafficking) programme by the Dutch Cabinet last Friday on the recommendation of State Secretary Harbers (Justice and Security) and submitted to the House of Representatives on Tuesday evening. 

Human trafficking has many faces and manifests itself in many forms. The girl blackmailed by her so-called boyfriend into having sex with other men and becoming a victim of sexual exploitation. The boy encouraged to steal something from a supermarket and becoming prey to criminal exploitation. Or people from abroad falling victim to labour exploitation and having to work excessive hours in wretched conditions for no pay. Human trafficking affects girls and boys, women and men, who are often forced to work in degrading conditions. Sometimes even right under our noses.

State Secretary Harbers:

‘My aim is to shed light on human trafficking. To make it visible to each and every Dutch citizen, so that they acknowledge it, recognise it and do something about it. For most people human trafficking is a remote issue. But human trafficking is closer to home than you might think, with victims’ suffering often going unnoticed.  We’re not just talking about sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, but also about labour exploitation or forced criminality. It’s about people being forced to do things that they would never choose to do of their own free will. We cannot and should not accept this.'

Coherent approach

The ‘Together Against Human Trafficking’ programme encompasses a wide range of procedures, projects and initiatives that complement and reinforce one another along five lines of action. In this regard, the existing approach to human trafficking is being further developed and expanded with concrete new initiatives. Municipal authorities’ efforts are also being given a boost due to the fact that the approach at local level needs to be tailored to ensure that the overall approach is solid. Furthermore, efforts geared towards informing and raising awareness are being used to maximise prevention of human trafficking, both in the Netherlands and in migrants’ countries of origin and transit. Specific attention is also being paid to the approach to labour exploitation which, compared to the approach to sexual exploitation, is not yet always given the level of attention it deserves. Finally, the various parties’ need for knowledge, expertise and information could be better integrated so as to enable the issue to be effectively approached from many angles. Hence the programme will bolster existing efforts to fight human trafficking in the Netherlands and beyond. It will serve as an umbrella programme with which new initiatives can successively be associated, depending on developments in the field and the requirements of those parties involved in the approach.

Concrete actions

The programme involves a variety of concrete actions, such as the creation of extra, specialist shelters for victims with multiple problems to ensure that they receive adequate help and refuge. Efforts will also be made to improve treatment provision in youth services institutions. Detection is also being reinforced. Because it is still all too often the case that victims do not wish to press charges, the police have launched such initiatives as a pilot to make it easier to press charges or report a matter. At the same time the police are investing in a better, more inclusive flow of information to increase the likelihood of catching offenders, even when victims decide not to press charges. Working  on the basis of information and across domains will mean that capacity is used more effectively and efficiently, and targeted better.

Furthermore, knowledge among police officers, reception desk staff at municipalities and neighbourhood wardens will be augmented by way of extra courses and training sessions. This is important because early detection of the right signs enables a rapid response. This makes it possible to curtail the exploitation, take victims into care more quickly and trace perpetrators sooner. The approach to labour exploitation is being bolstered by means of such actions as expanding the capacity of the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate. This will enable increased supervision of employers and allow more investigations to be conducted.

Cooperation and information sharing

Cooperation and information sharing are prerequisites to fully understanding and identifying the problem and ensuring the success of the approach. Consequently, a concerted effort is being mounted by the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the latter including Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation). This concerted effort at national level and the cooperation of local and international partners lend the programme its clout and added value.

The bolstered national approach will improve the opportunities in terms of coming up with the bespoke approach required at local level in the regions and cities. An increasing number of local authorities fully acknowledge the responsibilities they bear in this approach. The programme therefore stresses the fact that local authorities must adopt their own coherent and effective working method and implement this in practice. In this respect they are being supported not only by central government but also by the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, CoMensha and the CCV. The programme also facilitates cross-border cooperation, since this type of offence does not stop at national borders. Neither should dealing with human trafficking stop there. Only by cooperating at all levels will it be possible to put a stop to human trafficking. By not turning a blind eye and by taking effective action.