This module is a resource for lecturers

State cooperation with civil society

The essential role civil society, including non-governmental organizations, play in countering trafficking in persons is recognized in the main legal instruments against trafficking, namely the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (Protocol against Trafficking in Persons) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Council of Europe Convention).

The Protocol against Trafficking in Persons

Article 6(3) of the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons states:

3. Each State Party shall consider implementing measures to provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of trafficking in persons, including, in appropriate cases, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, other relevant organizations and other elements of civil society, and, in particular, the provision of:

(a) Appropriate housing;

(b) Counselling and information, in particular as regards their legal rights, in a language that the victims of trafficking in persons can understand;

(c) Medical, psychological and material assistance; and

(d) Employment, educational and training opportunities.

Article 9(3) provides:

Policies, programs and other measures established in accordance with this article shall, as appropriate, include cooperation with nongovernmental organizations, other relevant organizations and other elements of civil society.

Council of Europe Convention

The Council of Europe Convention also contains a number of provisions requiring States to cooperate with civil society:

Box 1

Council of Europe Convention

Article 5(6): Measures established in accordance with this article shall involve, where appropriate, non- governmental organisations, other relevant organisations and other elements of civil society committed to the prevention of trafficking in human beings and victim protection or assistance.

Article 6b: To discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking, each Party shall adopt or strengthen legislative, administrative, educational, social, cultural or other measures including:

(b) raising awareness of the responsibility and important role of media and civil society in identifying demand as one of the root causes of trafficking in human beings.

Article 12(5): Each Party shall take measures, where appropriate and under the conditions provided for by its internal law, to co-operate with non-governmental organisations, other relevant organisations or other elements of civil society engaged in assistance to victims.

Article 16(6): Each Party shall adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to make available to victims, where appropriate in co-operation with any other Party concerned, contact information of structures that can assist them in the country where they are returned or repatriated, such as law enforcement offices, non-governmental organisations, legal professions able to provide counselling and social welfare agencies.

Article 28(4) Each Party shall adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to provide, when necessary, appropriate protection from potential retaliation or intimidation in particular during and after investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, for members of groups, foundations, associations or non-governmental organisations which carry out the activities set out in Article 27, paragraph 3.

Article 35: Each Party shall encourage state authorities and public officials, to co-operate with non- governmental organisations, other relevant organisations and members of civil society, in establishing strategic partnerships with the aim of achieving the purpose of this Convention.

Relationship between civil society and State parties

In order to function effectively, civil society need the support and cooperation of governments. State agencies need to publicly commit to collaborating with civil society and create a framework within which NGOs and other civil society actors can maximize the effectiveness of their work on a sustainable basis. For example, in the United States (US), the National Association of Attorneys General have concluded:

Each country represented in this group has encountered problems with both labour and sex trafficking. We understand that collaborating with NGOs is essential in all facets of addressing the crime of modern-day trafficking, especially in three pivotal ways: Debilitating traffickers by assisting prosecution, protecting victims, and educating citizenry ( National Association of Attorneys General ).

Similarly, the US State Department has expressed the following view regarding the involvement of NGOs in the identification and liberation of trafficking victims:

NGOs can play an essential role in smart raids. They often help law enforcement officers carry out rescues and provide comfort and shelter to victims. They can offer psychosocial counseling skills to help identify trafficking victims, usually after they are removed from trafficking situations.

NGOs and media representatives can also play a valuable role by holding governments accountable to enforce legal standards and deliver victim care. However, NGOs cannot be expected to take the place of government in the commission of a raid or rescue, as they lack authority to perform law enforcement actions. Furthermore, NGOs and the media should avoid any practices harmful to the rights of children or others. While media coverage of raids may be attractive as a public relations tool, it is an invasion of victims' privacy and puts them at risk ( United States Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2012).

However, it is also essential that civil society operates independently and without State interference, subject of course to complying with legal requirements (such as registration, regulatory and statutory requirements and duties). This has implications for funding within civil society. Either funding must come from non-government sources, or must be free of inappropriate State influence or control.

Nevertheless, if States rely on the services of civil society to provide services, such as NGOs delivering medical and mental health care and legal assistance to victims, they should insist that personnel are duly trained and have the relevant expertise to do so. Accountability mechanisms should be established to ensure civil society actors are working responsibly and competently, are not endangering the safety or welfare of victims, or impeding law enforcement investigations or prosecution of offenders. Unfortunately, in many cases and countries, few appropriate accountability mechanisms exist. They are largely confined to the following:

  • State agencies revoking mandatory registration or licensing that provides NGOs with authority to operate in foreign countries, or revoking tax status which inhibits their efforts to raise funding from the public.
  • State agencies revoking visas and work permits for foreign staff and requiring them to leave the country.
  • State agencies refusing to work or collaborate with poor performing NGOs.
  • Media criticism of civil society behaving badly (see, for example: Jackman 2016; Currier 2017; Gallagher and de Rover 2015).
  • In the most serious cases, prosecuting those obstructing police investigations or committing other offences.

Unfortunately, these represent "blunt instruments" to monitor the conduct of civil society and create accountability. Some attempts have been made to publish codes of conduct to encourage appropriate standards. For example, Freedom Collaborative has published a Code of Conduct for Foreign NGOs Investigating Human Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation & Participating in Rescues of Victims , in an attempt to address criticisms directed at this work. More work is required to address this issue.

It is to be borne in mind that the responsibility to enact and enforce appropriate laws, prosecute and punish offenders, and protect and assist victims lies with the State. The fact that a State may "outsource" some of these responsibilities to civil society does not relieve it of its obligations under international law. Indeed, governments must ensure that civil society actors they deal with operate legitimately and competently in fulfilling these responsibilities (Schloenhardt and Hunt-Walshe, 2012, p. 88).

To this end, there is considerable merit in government agencies negotiating formal or semi-formal arrangements with, or promulgating policies and guidelines to, civil society actors providing services in the anti-trafficking sector on behalf of or in collaboration with the State. These might take the form of binding agreements, non-binding memoranda of understanding (MoUs), standard operating procedures (SoPs), or written guidelines or policies. These documents should cover matters such as procedures around the development of annual plans, means for collaboration and communication, a detailed allocation of responsibilities and duties of each party, reporting and accountability mechanisms, complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, funding sources, confidentiality and restrictions on communication with the media. The purpose is to clearly agree the allocation of responsibilities, optimize and avoid duplication of efforts, protect the rights of victims of trafficking (including their rights to privacy, data protection and safety) and provide them with access to justice. Functioning coordination and collaboration mechanisms are key to the success of such arrangements.

Some examples of collaboration between States and civil society are outlined below. First, Box 2 provides an example of issues to be addressed by States and civil society working together on issues related to trafficking in persons, produced by the Netherland's Government.

Box 2

Providing shelter to large groups of victims of trafficking in persons for labour exploitation

Since victims of trafficking for labour exploitation are often found in large groups, they may be difficult to accommodate in existing shelters. In order to provide support and assistance to large groups of victims, member states could:

Develop plans to shelter large groups of victims

The responsible State could consider engaging an organisation, for example an NGO, to coordinate the process of protecting and assisting big groups. As this could involve many stakeholders, the NGO could also serve as a coordinator of these stakeholders. Such a coordinator could draw up plans for housing and assisting large groups of victims. These plans may need to include the provision of:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Psychological and medical assistance, including screening victims for possible post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Involvement of social services in the case of child victims
  • Education and vocational training
  • Job placement and micro enterprises
  • Protection
  • Translation,
  • Legal and administrative advice and assistance
  • Provision of information on victims' rights
  • Cooperation between partners such as law enforcement, NGOs and local authorities
  • Funding and budgeting

Agree on the following issues before conducting arrest and rescue operations

  • Who will be responsible for financing the assistance of the victims? The municipality where the exploitation took place? The national government? Another party?
  • How many days, weeks, months of shelter and assistance for victims will be funded and by whom? An evaluation could be planned after the initial period to decide if the assistance should be continued.
  • What are the objectives of such operations? What are the responsibilities of each assisting organisation?
  • What rules on confidentiality, trust and safety apply between the partners?

Discuss the following topics about the day of the raid

Some topics to discuss to ensure smooth progress of the day are:

  • What is the composition of the group of victims like? Information about the composition of the group (for example: how many victims; gender; minors; families; nationality; communication languages; sector of exploitation; safety issues; mental and psychical state of the victims etc.) is needed when arranging shelter and assistance.
  • Where will the victims be taken after the raid? A shelter, hotel or the police station?
  • How many social workers will be needed to inform victims about their rights and to listen to their needs?
  • How many interpreters will be needed?
  • How will the transport from the location to the shelter be organised?

Evaluate the protection and assistance offered to the victims

When a group of victims has been provided with shelter and assistance after a raid, the organisations involved could consider carrying out an evaluation of the process. During this evaluation, the following topics could be discussed:

  • Did the services comply with the needs of the victims?
  • What are the results for the victims? Are they in a better situation?
  • Which (safety) risks did we encounter during the process of protection and assistance?
  • How did we cooperate together, could we do things differently?
  • Did we budget too much or too little for housing?
  • What problems did the victims have to cope with and how did we provide a solution?
Government of The Netherlands, Manual for experts on multidisciplinary cooperation against trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation (18 January 2016)

Boxes 3 and 4 provide examples of cooperation between government and NGOs working collaboratively.

Box 3

SOM: Strategic Meeting of NGOs on Trafficking in Human Beings, the Netherlands

The so-called SOM group holds meetings three to four times a year and consists of NGOs working with trafficked persons in the Netherlands. The group's aims include the development of a shared strategy and vision regarding identification of and assistance to victims of trafficking, prevention and law enforcement and monitoring the impact that anti-trafficking policies and practices have on victims. Furthermore, the SOM group aims to forge new partnerships and coordinate new activities providing assistance to victims of human trafficking.

Participating partners

Partners involved are: CoMensha; FairWork; Moviera; the specialised shelters for VoT PMW/Humanitas, ACM/HVO Querido and Jade Zorggroep; Defence for Children/ECPAT; Shop the Hague; Fier Fryslân/CKM; the Salvation Army and MJD Groningen. The Bureau of the National Rapporteur is present as an observer.

What makes this practice successful?

In the past three years, the SOM group has been able to monitor the effects that anti-trafficking policies and practices (for example of law enforcement agencies) have on victims and to provide feedback to those responsible. The SOM has been able to bring the victim's perspective into deliberations about legislation, policy and practice. For instance, the SOM has indicated how changes in practical adherence to reflection period procedures were negatively affecting victims' willingness to press charges, thus decreasing the number of reports. Parliament then discussed this matter with the government.

Government of The Netherlands, Manual for experts on multidisciplinary cooperation against trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation (18 January 2016)
Box 4

Website to share and collect information on trafficking, including for labour exploitation - Italy

In Italy, the Department for Equal Opportunities of the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers has set up a website to disseminate information on trafficking in human beings (THB), including for labour exploitation. Next to general information, the site comprises a collection of news, surveys, events and conferences, and awareness campaigns on THB, implemented both in Italy and all over Europe. Furthermore, a special section is devoted to national and international legislation and jurisprudence with penal and administrative judgements.

The website also includes a secure area for registered NGOs and local authorities managing emergencies, assistance, protection and social inclusion projects for victims of human trafficking carried out in Italy. Through this area, the so-called SIRIT (Sistema Informatizzato di Raccolta Informazioni sulla Tratta - Computerised system for the collection of information on trafficking in human beings) database is fed. SIRIT gathers all information on victims of human trafficking entering the protection projects.

Government of The Netherlands, Manual for experts on multidisciplinary cooperation against trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation (18 January 2016)

The US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 lists examples of achievements through partnerships between governments and NGOs:

  • The Government of Angola partnered with an international NGO to provide protective services and facilitate repatriation.
  • In Austria, between July 2015 and December 2016, officials and NGOs identified 15 trafficking victims among migrants transiting through or remaining in Austria.
  • The Bahamas's Government provided subsidies of 180,000 Bahamian dollars to NGOs that deliver services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups.
  • In Switzerland, an NGO, using funding provided by the government during the previous reporting period, established a new shelter that served trafficking victims.
  • The Tonga Community Centre served as an intermediary shelter for child trafficked victims before transfer to care facilities managed by NGOs. CROPESDI provided shelter, legal, medical, and social services to child victims up to the age of 14.
  • In Tunisia, the Government developed in 2016 a new national victim referral mechanism for officials to refer trafficking victims to government-operated social centres or NGO-run shelters. It began training officials on its implementation at the end of the reporting period.
  • A British NGO published a set of trafficking survivor care standards, which were widely disseminated by the Government and included law enforcement training materials.
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