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Human trafficking – prevention and strengthening of local capabilities

Human traf­fick­ing is a mod­ern form of slav­ery and a seri­ous infringe­ment of vic­tims’ human rights. It typ­i­cal­ly involves forced labour, sex­u­al exploita­tion or the removal of vic­tims’ organs. Migrants are par­tic­u­lar­ly at risk, as peo­ple are more vul­ner­a­ble when they are out­side of their own coun­try and not cov­ered by their own legal sys­tem. The SDC is com­mit­ted to improv­ing the pre­ven­tion of human traf­fick­ing, pro­tect­ing vic­tims more effec­tive­ly and devel­op­ing local capa­bil­i­ties and social ser­vices through the pro­vi­sion of advice.

SDC focus

Switzer­land regards human traf­fick­ing as a seri­ous vio­la­tion of human rights. The SDC is par­tic­u­lar­ly involved in tack­ling this prob­lem in east­ern Europe and the South Cau­ca­sus. When it comes to human traf­fick­ing, these are not only coun­tries of ori­gin but also of tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion. The SDC’s activ­i­ties include:

  • imple­ment­ing infor­ma­tion cam­paigns and rais­ing aware­ness among young peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly mar­gin­alised groups with­in soci­ety (e.g. board­ing school pupils and orphans)
  • strength­en­ing nation­al repa­tri­a­tion pro­grammes for vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing and, where pos­si­ble, devel­op­ing inter­na­tion­al programmes
  • strength­en­ing region­al net­works, organ­i­sa­tions and key play­ers that are involved in the pre­ven­tion of human traf­fick­ing and the assis­tance, repa­tri­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion of vic­tims of trafficking
  • con­tribut­ing to inter­de­part­men­tal work­ing groups, such as the work­ing group on inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion on migra­tion and the Swiss Coor­di­na­tion Unit against the Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons and the Smug­gling of Migrants, in order to ensure that Switzer­land has a coher­ent domes­tic and for­eign pol­i­cy in this area


Human traf­fick­ing is a glob­al prob­lem, one that has inten­si­fied over the last 20 years as glob­al­i­sa­tion has increased. The poor­er the coun­try, the eas­i­er it is for crim­i­nal traf­fick­ing net­works to recruit peo­ple. Human traf­fick­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly wide­spread in Latin Amer­i­ca, south-east Asia, and east­ern and south-east Europe. Coun­tries of tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion are typ­i­cal­ly indus­tri­alised countries.

By con­trast with peo­ple smug­glers, who gen­er­al­ly trans­port con­sent­ing indi­vid­u­als to anoth­er coun­try in return for pay­ment, human traf­fick­ers make false promis­es in rela­tion to employ­ment or mar­riage and threat­en or use vio­lence in order to exploit their vic­tims and enslave them. How­ev­er, it is dif­fi­cult to draw a clear line between these two types of activity.

The Inter­na­tion­al Labour Organ­i­sa­tion esti­mates that in 2012, 21 mil­lion peo­ple around the world became vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing, either in their own coun­try or abroad. Some 90% of cas­es involve forced labour. Of those, one-fifth con­cern sex­u­al exploita­tion, while four-fifths relate to the agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor, the build­ing trade, indus­try or domes­tic staff in pri­vate households.

Accord­ing to esti­mates by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the Orga­ni­za­tion for Secu­ri­ty and Co-oper­a­tion in Europe, 55% of all vic­tims world­wide are women or girls.

These days, human traf­fick­ing is one of the most lucra­tive crimes there is, on a par with the traf­fick­ing of weapons and drugs. The total finan­cial pro­ceeds of human traf­fick­ing world­wide are in excess of USD 10 billion.

Current challenges

Human traf­fick­ing is an inter­na­tion­al prob­lem, one that has been exac­er­bat­ed by the inter­net and the fact that trav­el has become so much eas­i­er. In order to effec­tive­ly tack­le human traf­fick­ing, pre­ven­tive mea­sures need to be imple­ment­ed and vic­tims need to be bet­ter pro­tect­ed. There is also a need to increase the num­ber of pros­e­cu­tions and con­duct more inten­sive infor­ma­tion cam­paigns in migrants’ coun­tries of ori­gin regard­ing the dan­gers of eco­nom­ic migration.

Inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion is also impor­tant. Thus far, how­ev­er, this has only addressed select­ed aspects of human traf­fick­ing, such as the traf­fick­ing of women and forced labour. Accord­ing­ly, fur­ther reg­u­la­tion and agree­ments are required at the inter­na­tion­al level.