Opening speech by the Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson at the seminar on Nordic Best Practices against Trafficking in Human Beings 18.11.2021

Ministry of Justice
Publication date 18.11.2021 14.09

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished seminar participants here in Helsinki and over the live stream,

I would like to wish you all a very warm welcome to this Seminar on Nordic Best Practices against Trafficking in Human Beings. It is a great pleasure for me to open this important seminar, which is being organised as part of Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

We have gathered here today to share our best practices in the work against trafficking in human beings. I hope we can learn from each other’s strengths and, in this way, promote anti-trafficking efforts in our countries and enhance the cooperation between our countries in this area. The aim of this seminar is to help and support you in your anti-trafficking work.

I am glad to see so many of you present here today, coming from different countries and representing various international organisations engaged in anti-trafficking work, as well as the European Commission. Thank you for joining us. In order to be able to combat trafficking in human beings, we need more information on the different forms it can take, on the different stages of enforcement of criminal liability, and on how best to provide assistance to victims. This seminar provides a forum where professionals working at different stages of this process can share their expertise. 

I would also like to thank everyone following the live stream for joining us today. You are part of a network that extends to all sectors of society and is highly important for our anti-trafficking efforts. Effective prevention of human trafficking requires strong will and actions from political decision-makers and determined work from professionals in the field. Furthermore, it is essential that all actors in society and the general public are aware of anti-trafficking efforts and prepared to intervene in human trafficking, should they come across it. Each of you, whether you are participating in this seminar physically here in Helsinki or following the event online, plays an important role in the fight against trafficking in human beings.  

International and Nordic cooperation

Human trafficking offences take a variety of forms, and the general tendencies of these offences and even individual cases often extend to more than one state. That is why international cooperation is of utmost importance here. 

The new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings for 2021–2025 takes into account many essential cross-border features of human trafficking, such as the increase in the number of online human trafficking offences and the significance of international exchange of information and operational cooperation between the countries of origin and transit.

In a recent survey conducted in the Nordic countries, the respondents raised combatting cross-border crime as the most important theme for Nordic cooperation. According to the survey, the population also widely supports Nordic cooperation. The survey shows that people want us to take action, and we can respond to this call by strengthening our cooperation in combatting trafficking in human beings. 

During Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, we have highlighted the Nordic cooperation against trafficking in human beings as one of our priorities. When I met with the other Nordic Ministers of Justice last June, we discussed the possibilities to strengthen the anti-trafficking efforts in the Nordic countries. Suggestions concerning closer cooperation that come up during this seminar, will be taken into account when charting the needs for closer cooperation. We will discuss the necessary measures based on studies on this topic at the next year’s meeting of the Ministers of Justice. 

A cross-sectoral approach

In Finland, we see anti-trafficking work as a cross-sectoral effort that must be advanced collaboratively by various ministries and agencies. One of the measures we have taken to promote this cross-sectoral approach is appointing Government Anti-Trafficking Coordinator for this government term. In the work against trafficking in human beings, we need someone to lead the way, to bring together different views and outline visions for our common goals. With this in mind, the Coordinator’s task is to take initiative and dismantle silos between administrative branches, aiming for long-term development of this important work. The Coordinator works under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. 

In addition to cooperation between the authorities, we also need to work together with civil society organisations, labour market organisations and businesses. Anti-trafficking work is most effective when the entire society is committed to it.

Finland’s strategy

The Finnish Government has a strong will to move forward with the work against trafficking in human beings, and we have several ambitious legislative and development projects under way. 

During the current government term, we have published an Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings for 2021–2023. When preparing the Action Plan, our focus was on stepping up anti-trafficking efforts and improving the position of victims. We also took into account the recommendations issued to Finland by the monitoring bodies that oversee the implementation of international human rights treaties. 

The Action Plan includes five strategic objectives and a total of 55 different measures. The Action Plan aims to promote the detection of trafficking in human beings, improve the position of victims and intensify the enforcement of criminal liability. It also seeks to mainstream anti-trafficking work and make it a more integral part of the Government’s activities and to enhance cooperation with civil society. The Action Plan establishes a strong link between the development of anti-trafficking work and the Government's analysis, assessment and research activities. 

In addition to specific anti-trafficking measures, Finland combats trafficking in human beings by promoting gender equality and the rights of the child, combatting economic crime, and making sustainable public procurements, among other things. Anti-trafficking work also contributes to our multi-sectoral work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Anti-trafficking work in different administrative branches in Finland 

Finnish ministries and their administrative branches have a variety of projects promoting anti-trafficking efforts under way. 

For example, the Ministry of Justice is currently examining ways to improve the status of victims of human trafficking in the criminal procedure. The Ministry of Justice is also funding a project led by civil society organisations, which aims to improve the identification of human trafficking related to sexual exploitation and the victims’ access to assistance. 

Furthermore, we are currently examining the application practices of both the Criminal Code and the Aliens Act. Connected to this, we are about to launch a project that will look into the practices related to the victims’ right not to be punished for offences they have been forced to commit. Next year, we will also examine how suspicions of trading in sexual services are taken into account in cases where refusal of entry is being considered under the Aliens Act. 

As for other actors in the administrative branch of the Ministry of Justice, I would like to mention that the National Prosecution Authority has established a network of prosecutors specialised in trafficking in human beings.

Another important player in this field is the Ministry of the Interior, which is currently taking a number of measures to prevent and detect trafficking in human beings and promote the recovery of victims. For example, a police team focusing on the detection and investigation of human trafficking offences was established at the beginning of this year. 

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, for its part, is working to ensure that victims of human trafficking receive the services they are entitled to under legislation. To improve the position of victims, the Ministry is preparing legislative amendments. 

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, a project is exploring means to combat the exploitation of foreign labour. To this end, the occupational safety and health authorities’ resources have been increased and their powers extended to cover trafficking in human beings. 

Final remarks

To sum up, anti-trafficking efforts bring greater benefits if we work together. In addition to the cooperation between the different administrative branches here in Finland, we need international cooperation. If we develop our expertise together, we will be stronger and better prepared to respond to the needs of the victims, bring the perpetrators to justice, and protect society as a whole from trafficking in human beings. 

I hope that this seminar will provide all of you with useful tools for your work against human trafficking. I look forward to having lively discussions and a fruitful exchange of ideas. I wish you all an inspiring and successful seminar!