Topics of Special Interest

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Confronting Human Trafficking at the Provincial Level: A Focus on Ontario, Canada

In Canada, the province of Ontario demonstrated sub-national initiative and leadership in combating human trafficking when it announced on June 30, 2016, the Strategy to End Human Trafficking. The Strategy, which is led by the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) in partnership with the Ministry of the Status of Women, includes up to $72 million (CAD) in investments over the following four years and the creation of a Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office. This office is the first of its kind in Ontario and is dedicated to ensuring collaboration across more than 10 federal agencies.

Focusing on the four key pillars of Prevention and Community Support, Enhanced Justice Sector Initiatives, Indigenous-Led Approaches, and Provincial Coordination and Leadership, Ontario has engaged with hundreds of partners, including survivors, to ensure a collaborative and coordinated approach to strengthen the systems that help to prevent and address human trafficking, ensure that the appropriate resources are available to victims, and raise awareness in the community.

As a major part of this strategy, Ontario will provide approximately $18.6 million (CAD) to 44 partners for projects selected through a competitive selection process for the Anti-Human Trafficking Community Supports Fund and the Indigenous-Led Initiatives Fund. These funds will be used for locally driven solutions to address human trafficking, with a focus on prevention and survivor support.

Since the Strategy to End Human Trafficking was launched, Ontario has undertaken an impressive number of actions under each pillar. A few of them are listed below.


  • Hired six specialized youth-in-transition workers to support youth leaving the care of custodial and non-custodial child protection agencies and Indigenous child well-being societies who may be at risk or survivors of human trafficking.
  • Delivered human trafficking awareness training for approximately 450 occupational health and safety inspectors and employment standards officers.
  • Passed the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, which focuses on prevention and protection of young people. This includes raising the age of protection to 18 so that eligible vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds can continue to access education, safe housing, and other support services that can help prevent human trafficking.
  • Expanded the Victim/Witness Assistance Program to hire specialized human trafficking victim services workers to assist survivors through the criminal court process.
  • Established a partnership between the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to develop a trauma-informed training program and online community of practice to help mental health and addiction professionals better understand and respond to the needs of human trafficking survivors.
  • Expanded the Victim Quick Response Program to improve access to services such as recovery in a trauma-informed facility, tattoo removal, and replacement of government documents, to meet the immediate needs of survivors.


  • Launched a new Indigenous-Led Initiatives Fund for projects designed for and by Indigenous people, with more than $4.5 million provided to 17 partners. These projects will provide Indigenous survivors with access to services, help prevent at-risk people from being exploited, meaningfully engage survivors with lived experience, and encourage innovation and community partnerships.
  • Partnered with the Ontario Native Women’s Association to establish the Indigenous Anti-Human Trafficking Liaisons program, the first of its kind in Canada. The liaisons work in key cities and regions with local organizations to ensure effective and culturally appropriate services are offered to Indigenous people who have experienced human trafficking.
  • Worked collaboratively on implementation of the strategy with the newly-formed Provincial Committee on Human Trafficking, a specialized human trafficking advisory table composed of key Indigenous partners, which reports to the Executive Committee to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.


  • Established the Human Trafficking Lived Experience Roundtable (the first of its kind in Canada) to ensure ongoing input from survivors bolsters the province’s efforts to end human trafficking.
  • Liaised with ministries across government and engaged hundreds of partners to ensure a collaborative, coordinated approach to strengthening the systems that can prevent human trafficking and ensure that appropriate help is available for survivors.
  • Designed a performance measurement framework for the strategy to ensure that clear and measurable outcomes are produced by the many initiatives across government to confront human trafficking and support survivors.


  • Passed the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, which increases protection for survivors of human trafficking and makes it easier for survivors to pursue compensation.
  • Created a Provincial Human Trafficking Prosecution Team comprised of a coordinator and five specialized assistant prosecutors. The team is dedicated to effectively prosecuting human trafficking cases and ensuring a coordinated provincial approach.
  • Created three new positions at Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario in the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, dedicated to improving human trafficking intelligence coordination and analysis across jurisdictions, as well as introducing highly specialized training.
  • The Ontario Provincial Police is developing an Anti-Human Trafficking Investigations Coordination Team that will enhance investigative capacity and police coordination, and support a team-based, victim-centered approach throughout Ontario.

For more information on the Ontario Strategy to End Human Trafficking, please visit

After Human Trafficking: Successful Models that Promote Resilience and Provide Lasting Protections for Survivors


In the weeks and months after a human trafficking situation has ended, survivors experience significantly different levels of support from country to country. The resources and services available to survivors during this time depend on what actions governments take. Responses range from governments that provide access to comprehensive services to those that simply provide transportation costs for a survivor to return home or that even deport survivors who lack legal status. To minimize vulnerabilities to re-trafficking and empower survivors, governments should work to increase access to longer-term economic and educational opportunities in addition to initial, immediate support services.

Limited resources and inadequate understanding of the array of services survivors may need often result in insufficient assistance for survivors in the critical weeks and months after a trafficking situation. Comprehensive services—which include medical and mental health care, legal assistance, safety planning, and housing—can support a survivor’s recovery and ability to transition successfully to a new life.

After this initial period, economic and educational opportunities can further prevent re-victimization, provide resources to rebuild, and assist in the transition from victim to survivor. Additionally, when individually tailored and self-selected services include family and community support, a survivor is more likely to transition from vulnerability—where they may face stigma and risk of further exploitation—to a position of self-sufficiency and dignity.

Key factors likely to contribute to long-term successful recovery and re-entry into a community include:

  • Assessment of personal, family, and community vulnerability and resilience;
  • Safe, available, and affordable housing with freedom of movement;
  • Vocational training, access to the labor market, and opportunities for decent work, with life skills training to improve outcomes in the work place, family, and community;
  • Support for family members, including job placement, and emotional and financial support as appropriate;
  • Long-term access to mental health and psycho-social support services; and
  • Community-based awareness raising and training to reduce stigma toward victims and encourage community-based support and monitoring of the well-being of victims and their families.

After a human trafficking situation, it is important to provide survivors with adequate time to develop trust in government agencies and service providers to foster their empowerment and informed decision-making about their recovery and re-entry into a community. As part of the legal framework in some countries, law enforcement officials provide a “reflection period” to allow foreign national victims of trafficking to make more informed decisions about their rights, including to choose whether to support law enforcement action, and provide assistance with returning to their country of origin.

The following are examples of programs in Mexico, Serbia, and Indonesia that demonstrate effective strategies to consider an individual’s vulnerability and strengths, recovery from his or her experiences of exploitation and resulting trauma, the context in which the victim lived, and the circumstances to which that person will return.

In Mexico, a shelter for vulnerable children and adolescents initiated an independent living component for older youth subjected to human trafficking or otherwise exploited. After conducting a needs assessment, project staff worked with the young men and women to identify their vocational and social strengths to provide tailored, follow-up support, including shared apartments, life skills training, counseling, and job placement into full-time jobs in the community. The project resulted in survivors’ increased emotional and social resilience, economic self-sufficiency, and reduced vulnerabilities to human trafficking.

An anti-trafficking NGO in Serbia maintains a reintegration center where victims of human trafficking receive basic medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance, as well as education, support in obtaining employment, and family counseling. The organization also supports victims with reintegration by training and hiring them at its bagel shop, the proceeds of which support other victim support programs. The bagel shop, which raises awareness of human trafficking in the community, is one of only a handful of economically sustainable social enterprises in Serbia.

In West Java, Indonesia, an international organization works with survivors of human trafficking to help them create sustainable livelihoods through microenterprises. The project helps shelter residents conduct a market analysis of the local community to identify types of businesses the local economy could support. As a result, dozens of survivors can coordinate resources through local cooperatives to build microenterprises in catfish farming, mushroom cultivation, food processing, and tailoring services.

Overall, support for more individually tailored economic and educational assistance is greatly needed to successfully support a survivor’s recovery and provide the necessary tools to be self-sufficient. Although there is greater availability of services found in some countries immediately following removal from a trafficking situation, tailored, longer-term, and community-based assistance would decrease the risk of being re-trafficked and contribute to greater likelihood of long-term success. Close coordination between survivors and, wherever possible, destination and home country service providers, is also more likely to improve chances of success.

Learning from successful models that actively promote economic self-sufficiency, emotional and social resilience, and support from local communities can provide survivors with a greater chance of building a life of their choice. Governments should evaluate those models to strengthen their efforts to provide lasting protections for survivors.

Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking


The international community agrees that a family caregiving setting, or an alternative solution that is appropriate and culturally sensitive, is the most conducive environment for the growth, well-being, and safety of children. Removal of a child from the family should only be considered as a temporary, last resort. Studies have found that both private and government-run residential institutions for children, or places such as orphanages and psychiatric wards that do not offer a family-based setting, cannot replicate the emotional companionship and attention found in family environments that are prerequisites to healthy cognitive development. Yet, about eight million children worldwide live in these facilities, even though an estimated 80 to 90 percent of them have at least one living parent. The physical and psychological effects of staying in residential institutions, combined with societal isolation and often subpar regulatory oversight by governments, place these children in situations of heightened vulnerability to human trafficking.

Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers. Even at their best, residential institutions are unable to meet a child’s need for emotional support that is typically received from family members or consistent caretakers with whom the child can develop an attachment. Children are especially vulnerable when traffickers recognize and take advantage of this need for emotional bonding stemming from the absence of stable parental figures. In addition, the rigid schedules and social isolation of residential institutions offer traffickers a tactical advantage, as they can coerce children to leave and find ways to exploit them.

Children are more at risk for human trafficking in ill-managed facilities that allow traffickers to operate in or around the facility with impunity. Residential institutions that are complicit or directly involved in human trafficking take advantage of unfettered access to the children, knowing they have nowhere to turn for support. Several orphanages, including in Oceania, Central America, and Eastern Europe, have been found in recent years to be doubling as brothels. In one instance, children of an orphanage as well as international NGOs reported detailed cases of staff forcing some of the girls, especially those from rural or indigenous communities, out at night to engage in commercial sex. Civil society groups have also identified forced labor in residential institutions, with one instance involving staff of an orphanage for children with disabilities forcing children to assist in construction projects and other dangerous tasks, such as sterilizing soiled mattresses, under the guise of “work therapy.” In several countries, these children are made to perform domestic work in houses in the surrounding village or labor on a farm.

Institutional complicity can even extend to the practice of recruiting children for the facility. “Child finders” travel to local villages or communities—often those affected by war, natural disaster, poverty, or societal discrimination—and promise parents education, food security, safety, and healthcare for their children. Instead of fulfilling those promises, many orphanages use the children to raise funds by forcing them to perform shows for or interact and play with potential donors to encourage more donations. Orphanages have also kept children in poor health to elicit more sympathy and money from donors.

Foreign travelers wishing to include a charitable element in their vacation often partake in “voluntourism” at orphanages, which child advocacy organizations and governments have documented as harmful. Volunteering in these facilities for short periods of time without appropriate training can cause further emotional stress and even a sense of abandonment for already vulnerable children with attachment issues affected by temporary and irregular experiences of safe relationships. In addition, it is rare that background checks are performed on these volunteers, which can also increase the risk of children being exposed to individuals with criminal intent. Voluntourism not only has unintended consequences for the children, but also the profits made through volunteer-paid program fees or donations to orphanages from tourists incentivize nefarious orphanage owners to increase revenue by expanding child recruitment operations in order to open more facilities. These orphanages facilitate child trafficking rings by using false promises to recruit children and exploit them to profit from donations. This practice has been well-documented in several countries, including Nepal, Cambodia, and Haiti.

Even when a child leaves or ages out of a residential institution, the vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered. The societal isolation of residential institutions often prevents children from building stable, long-term familial, or social relationships. By depriving children of opportunities to develop a social support network, receive adequate schooling, experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills, residential institutions leave those departing from institutional care more vulnerable to traffickers’ schemes. Some traffickers, in recognizing the heightened vulnerability of these children, wait for and target those who leave or age out of institutions.

In response, governments can take steps to protect children from these vulnerabilities, starting with providing assistance to families who find it difficult to provide their children with food, education, and healthcare and may be at risk of losing custody of their children as a result. Also, governments can develop, coordinate, and encourage family-based care options over institutional care whenever appropriate. Oversight bodies should demand stricter monitoring of children’s homes, ensuring they meet international guidelines and pursue criminal accountability for those who facilitate or organize trafficking in or near government facilities. Governments can also evaluate their laws to increase protections for children with disabilities and strengthen parental rights and abilities to promote children staying with families when it is in the best interest of the child. Donor countries can ensure foreign assistance prioritizes support for programs or initiatives that preserve family-based care and do not support residential institutions that are not in compliance with international standards. Donor countries can also look at ways to increase oversight of organizations and charities funneling money to residential institutions abroad. Moreover, awareness-raising efforts can counter social media campaigns promoting voluntourism in orphanages, as well as educate well-intentioned groups, such as tourism companies and religious organizations that unintentionally perpetuate the demand for children in residential institutions.

A paradigm shift away from institutional care to a family caregiving setting has its own challenges, beginning with recognizing that family members may be complicit in human trafficking and finding the resources and expertise to develop a solution that is most conducive to the health and safety of children. The international community has acknowledged that certain community care options, such as small group homes and kinship and community care where appropriate, can serve as alternatives while working toward a permanent placement in a family setting. Aftercare plans that include ongoing support from community resources can help children continue to thrive after being discharged. These arrangements can minimize the negative impact on children’s development, as well as their vulnerability to human trafficking if they are kept short-term and adhere to international standards, including the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children (UN General Assembly A/RES/64/14223 (2010)). The depth of research documenting these risks stands as a compelling reason for governments to consider how to transition away from institutional care, while also providing resources for children transitioning from institutional care to successful adulthood.

Implementing a Trauma-Informed Approach


Survivors of human trafficking have often endured a degree of trauma significant enough to have lasting psychological and physical effects. To appropriately support survivors, a trauma-informed approach should be incorporated across all anti-trafficking efforts, including during the criminal justice process and while providing victim services. It is also critical to use a trauma-informed lens when carrying out prevention strategies and when engaging with survivors in the context of public awareness activities and media reporting.

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Most people have experienced some degree of trauma over the course of their lives, but every person responds to a traumatic event differently. A range of stress responses may be exhibited after experiencing a traumatic event; many individuals recover without lasting consequences while others experience long-term effects, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation.

Survivors of trafficking often experience complex trauma, which is the exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature, with wide-ranging and long-term effects. Trafficking survivors also frequently have experienced polyvictimization, where they endure multiples types of victimization or community violence—including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from various actors. Research indicates complex trauma changes how one thinks, what one thinks about, and the brain’s ability to store and make memories, experience healthy attachments, and develop trust.

Trauma disrupts the rational thought process and impairs the ability to handle stress, perceive when a threat is in the past, and manage emotions. Victims often experience re-traumatization when they are “triggered” or have flashbacks or intrusive thoughts that replicate the experience of their initial trauma. A survivor who may appear to be uncooperative, combative, or difficult could be experiencing such overwhelming symptoms related to trauma. A sense of stability and security must be attained before the individual can be expected to engage constructively with any systems or services. It is also important to recognize that maladaptive behaviors, including risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse, can be part of an individual’s survival mechanisms.

All those engaged in anti-trafficking work must understand the vast impacts of trauma and incorporate a trauma-informed approach to their work to more effectively support victims of trafficking. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, service providers, and other allied professionals will likely observe a wide range of reactions related to trauma during the course of their work with survivors. Understanding the reason behind a survivor’s actions will contribute immensely to building rapport and trust, whether preparing a victim-witness for trial or providing appropriate services.

Without a trauma-informed approach, criminal justice professionals and service providers may miss important cues and unintentionally re-traumatize the individual. Personal safety and self-preservation are the primary focus of the trafficking victim; concerned with basic matters of survival, victims may seem unresponsive or reluctant to engage. Many survivors may not self-identify as victims, and may even make initial statements that seem to protect the offenders, or even run away from or avoid law enforcement and service providers who are trying to assist them. Such realities require a greater investment of time, patience, and rapport-building than in traditional cases.

Being trauma-informed is a strengths-based approach that is responsive to the impact of trauma on a person’s life. It requires recognizing symptoms of trauma and designing all interactions with victims of human trafficking in such a way that minimizes the potential for re-traumatization. In particular, this approach emphasizes creating physical, psychological, and emotional safety and well-being to address the unique experiences and needs of survivors. It involves creating a safe physical space in which to interact with survivors as well as assessing all levels of service and policy to create as many opportunities as possible for survivors to rebuild a sense of control. Most importantly, it promotes survivor empowerment and self-sufficiency. Victims of human trafficking should be empowered with choice whenever possible, including the ability to determine whether to participate in the criminal justice process. They should also have access to services that promote autonomy and are comprehensive, victim-centered, and culturally appropriate.

Additionally, trafficking survivors share that one of the most important steps to being trauma-informed is to be survivor-informed. A survivor-informed practice includes meaningful input from a diverse community of survivors at all stages of a program or project, including development, implementation, and evaluation. Whenever possible, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, service providers, and other allied professionals should solicit feedback from survivors on organizational policies and programming. Survivors should also be involved in evaluation activities, focus groups, and other efforts to assess the effectiveness of service delivery. Moreover, when sought out to provide input or consultation, survivors should be paid for their expertise and time.

Following is a checklist developed by the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute for implementing a trauma-informed approach across prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts.

Checklist for a trauma-informed approach to interactions with survivors of human trafficking*

  • Be aware if the individual appears shut down or disconnected; this may be a sign that the person is overwhelmed.
  • Have materials available that may support regulation of affect and impulses during meetings, conversation, or testimony.
  • Check in to make sure the survivor is hearing and understanding your statements or questions and provide frequent breaks.
  • Be aware that changes in memory do not necessarily indicate falsehood or storytelling, but may be indicative of a trauma response.
  • Try to hold interviews or other key conversations at a time when the survivor feels most stable and safe.
  • Help break down tasks concretely; assume that even small tasks may feel overwhelming. Support the survivor in accessing help with task completion.
  • Focus on the facts of experiences, rather than getting caught up in the individual’s emotional response or perception of events in making determinations about criminality.
  • Be aware of the often confusing nature of the individual’s relationships with the perpetrators; be conscious of not making assumptions.
  • Don’t take strong reactions personally; be very aware of managing your own emotional responses.
  • Provide opportunities for control and empowerment whenever possible.
  • Be aware of the importance of physical as well as emotional supports.

* Adapted from Justice Resource Institute, Utilizing Trauma-Informed Approaches to Trafficking-related Work.

How Governments Address Domestic Servitude in Diplomatic Households


Governments face a special challenge in addressing domestic servitude in diplomatic households, a form of human trafficking involving domestic workers employed by diplomats and international organization officials posted abroad. Although it is rare that diplomats subject domestic workers to involuntary servitude or other forms of exploitation, on those occasions when it does occur, the problem is a grave and challenging one for host governments to address.

Foreign mission personnel and their family members can enjoy various forms of immunity from jurisdiction in the country in which they are posted. In particular, foreign government representatives who are accredited to a host country as “diplomatic agents” or have equivalent status (such as Permanent Representative to the United Nations), along with their spouses and children, enjoy immunity from criminal and most civil jurisdiction, and thus cannot be sued or prosecuted unless their government grants a waiver of immunity. Diplomats and their immediate family members also enjoy personal inviolability, meaning they cannot be arrested or detained. Other foreign government representatives, such as embassy administrative and technical staff members, enjoy a less robust degree of privileges and immunities, but may also be immune from a host state’s civil, administrative, and criminal jurisdiction.

The typical immunities for members of a diplomatic mission are enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a treaty based on the reciprocal interests of all States that both host foreign diplomats and send their own abroad. The Convention also obliges diplomats to respect the host nation’s laws, and implicitly recognizes the long-held privilege of bringing foreign domestic workers on diplomatic assignments abroad.

Domestic workers often face circumstances that leave them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by their diplomat employers. They are usually legally resident in the country in which they are working only by virtue of their employment by the diplomat. Thus, they may remain in exploitative situations because they feel they have no other options. Further, these workers are often isolated from the community beyond the diplomat’s family due to lack of familiarity with the language, institutions, and culture of the country in which they are employed. There is a significant power disparity between a diplomat, who is a government official of some standing, and a domestic worker, who likely has a modest background and may have limited education or language skills. In addition, domestic workers are usually made aware of the special status of diplomats and may believe that rules of accountability do not apply to their employers and that it is hopeless to seek help.

An international consensus has begun to take shape, but it should acknowledge that diplomats should be held accountable for exploitation of domestic workers.

For instance, it is increasingly understood that there is a temporal limit to the immunity enjoyed by diplomats and their family members. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that, after a diplomat leaves his or her position, the diplomat enjoys a limited form of immunity that extends only to the diplomat’s “official acts” while he or she was accredited. Employment of a domestic worker is widely recognized not to be an official act, thus domestic workers have successfully sued diplomats (and their spouses) after diplomatic status has been terminated for abuses alleged to have occurred while the diplomats were accredited.

The following sections outline some of the innovative approaches currently implemented by the U.S. government and other host governments around the world across the "3P" paradigm of Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution to address domestic servitude in diplomatic households.


  • Requiring that foreign domestic workers employed by diplomats have written contracts in a language workers understand before arriving in country; the contracts must specify the hours of work, wages, holidays, medical care, etc. Many governments also prohibit employers from holding workers’ travel and identity documents.
  • Requiring that domestic workers register in person with the host government (usually the Protocol Office in the Foreign Ministry). Registrations offer workers an opportunity to meet with host government representatives without their employer present to discuss their working conditions and learn about their rights and obligations. A domestic worker typically is provided with an identification card that is renewed periodically and contains contact information for assistance, if needed.
  • Prohibiting payment of wages in cash in countries with effective banking systems, and instead requiring direct deposit of wages to a bank account in the sole name of the domestic worker or payment by check. These measures provide objective evidence in the event of a salary dispute. In addition, many governments have minimum wage requirements and prohibit entirely or specify the extent to which lodging or food expenses can be taken from wages, thereby limiting excessive deductions that can mask underpayment of wages.
  • Limiting the number of domestic workers that any one diplomat may employ at the same time to help ensure diplomats can afford to pay the promised wages, as well as prohibiting workers’ family members from accompanying them, as family members themselves may be subject to exploitation. Workers accompanied by family may be less likely to report abuse for fear that their spouse or children will lose residence status.
  • Requiring that domestic workers demonstrate understanding of at least one of the host country languages before a visa is issued.
  • Providing training to diplomatic personnel on appropriate treatment of domestic workers before overseas assignments, and developing internal foreign ministry human resource policies to sanction diplomats who abuse domestic workers while posted abroad.


  • Bringing credible allegations of exploitation of a domestic worker by a diplomat to the attention of the ambassador of the sending state’s mission and requesting a timely response to the allegations. Some host governments may also take the preventive step of limiting the issuance of visas for any additional domestic workers to be employed by mission members until the allegations are addressed satisfactorily.
  • Engaging diplomatically with foreign governments to encourage settlement and/or payment of final court judgments in civil suits, including default judgments, against one of their diplomats. As described above, diplomats and their family members have been sued successfully by their former domestic workers after diplomatic status has been terminated.
  • Encouraging diplomat employers who are the subject of serious allegations by domestic workers to address the problem and, if appropriate, provide compensation to the domestic worker, even if no formal legal redress is available in the country of assignment.
  • Setting up alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in an attempt to mediate disputes between diplomats and domestic workers.
  • Building partnerships between law enforcement and NGOs in the community to ensure that domestic workers fleeing human trafficking have access to shelter and support.


  • Taking serious action to hold diplomats accountable. For example, if law enforcement authorities in the host state advise that they would prosecute the diplomat for a serious crime (including human trafficking) if the diplomat did not have immunity, then that host state could request that the sending state waive immunity to allow the prosecution to proceed. If such a waiver were not granted, the diplomat and family members could be required to depart the country.
  • Referring credible allegations of exploitation of a domestic worker by a diplomat to law enforcement for investigation.
  • Proposing former foreign mission members and, if appropriate, family members as the subject of Interpol “red notices,” which are flags in an international system that alert law enforcement globally that the individuals are wanted by another national government for prosecution based on an arrest warrant.

Promising Practices in the Eradication of Trafficking in Persons: Tracking Suspicious Financial Flows

Governments, in partnership with civil society and the private sector, can use forensic accounting strategies that enable financial institutions to identify and flag activity that may be consistent with human trafficking schemes.

There are a number of identifiable stages of a human trafficking scheme during which traffickers may interact with the financial system. Providing financial systems with guidance on red flag indicators to detect suspicious financial activities can greatly assist law enforcement and other authorities in their efforts to identify and prosecute human trafficking.


In recent years, governments around the world have established financial intelligence units (FIUs) to receive and analyze reports of suspicious financial activity that may be indicative of embezzlement, money laundering, and, increasingly, human trafficking.

FIUs are able to detect transactions, track money flows, and collect evidence tied to human trafficking crimes. They can also work closely with financial institutions to add red flag indicators of human trafficking to the list of suspicious activities warranting further scrutiny. While every context is unique, groups like the Egmont Group—of which more than 155 FIUs are members—serve as a venue for international collaboration to combat crimes with a financial component, and recent advances make it clear human traffickers should be among the targets.

Governments can develop procedures and precedents to use the information from suspicious transactions to hold human traffickers accountable. In 2017, for example, the Government of Thailand convicted a high-ranking government official for his involvement in human trafficking crimes. In this case, the government uncovered his role in the scheme in part due to its tracking of suspicious financial transactions.

In the United States, the U.S. Department of the Treasury uses its authorities, partnerships with law enforcement, and international engagement to combat human trafficking through targeted sanctions. The Department of the Treasury also protects the U.S. and international financial systems by blocking the property of numerous transnational criminal organizations, including those involved in human trafficking. As recently as January 2018, the United States sanctioned the Zhao Wei transnational criminal organization, a Laos-based group involved in numerous criminal activities, including child sex trafficking.

Tools Developed by Inter-governmental Organizations:

  • Money Laundering Risks Arising from Trafficking in Human Beings and Smuggling of Migrants—published by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to identify red flag indicators of money laundering from human trafficking operations and foster reporting of suspicious transactions. FATF is in the process of updating this report with a new study focused on the changing nature of the financial flows resulting from human trafficking.
  • 25 Keys to Unlock the Financial Chains of Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery—a report on a workshop convened by UN University with the support of the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations in March 2017 on disrupting money laundering associated with human trafficking. The report identifies key actionable items among various stakeholders, including developing strategies for engagement in the financial sector of high-risk industries (palm oil, cocoa, fisheries, hotel industry, mega-sport events construction).
  • Policy Guide on Following the Money in Trafficking in Persons Cases—the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime is compiling regional practices and approaches to using anti-money laundering and asset recovery tools to help law enforcement, prosecutors, and financial intelligence units combat human trafficking.
  • Leveraging Anti-Money Laundering Regimes to Combat Trafficking in Persons Cases—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) report on participating States’ promising practices to identify and prosecute instances of human trafficking through financial techniques, such as tracing, freezing, and confiscating proceeds.

In October 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network launched a Human Trafficking Project Team through the Egmont Group of FIUs. The major objectives of this project include strengthening knowledge about financial flows related to human trafficking and identifying and disrupting these illicit flows. The Human Trafficking Project Team will work to enhance bilateral information-sharing to produce actionable information to disrupt these illicit financial flows and prosecute human trafficking.


Monitoring the daily activity of local and global industries for evidence of illicit activity is a monumental task and governments cannot do it alone. Private financial institutions also play an important role through internal mechanisms to monitor their customers’ transactions for potential red flags. To mitigate risk, financial institutions, brands, and suppliers often turn to internal and third-party risk assessment, due diligence, and compliance firms for data on entities with which they are doing business and on potential perpetrators of financial crimes. These firms provide critical services, often referred to as “Know Your Customer” or “Politically Exposed Persons” services, to assist financial institutions and corporations in screening clients and business partners to avoid complicity in money laundering and a host of other crimes. Law enforcement and government regulatory bodies also rely on these firms and their databases for investigative purposes and to coordinate with other agencies.

Other actors can also be a part of the solution. For example, a small Hong Kong-based NGO collaborates with financial institutions to increase the amount of quality data on potential perpetrators of human trafficking. It operates a media monitoring program that collects media reports and other reliable data (directly and through NGO partners), vets, and then packages the most trustworthy data for further review by these firms. In the last two years, this organization has introduced more than 5,000 names of suspected individuals and companies to these databases, and currently supplies on average more than 300 submissions per month, working with a growing number of global research partners spanning over 20 countries. Expanding the amount of data within this existing and effective institutional framework promises to help disrupt significantly financial flows and supply chains tainted by human trafficking, making it an effective tool for the prevention of human trafficking and the prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking.

Collaboration, data-gathering, and information-sharing within existing institutional frameworks can be used to effectively disrupt financial flows related to trafficking in persons, and thus provide effective tools for both the prevention of human trafficking and the prosecution of human traffickers.

Examples of Red Flag Indicators related to Trafficking in Persons*:

  • Use of cash: through couriers and money remitters; repeated cash withdrawals and transfers in small amounts to avoid identification or reporting requirements;
  • Use of multiple bank accounts and credit cards, as well as multiple alias identities and addresses;
  • Use of front companies, straw persons, or false identity documents;
  • Inexplicable lifestyle compared to the client profile;
  • Relations with persons with suspected or known criminal history;
  • Use of cash to invest in real estate/high value goods;
  • Frequent deposits or withdrawals with no apparent business source;
  • Lack of any licit business behind banking operations;
  • Use of ATM and credit cards at times inconsistent with normal operating hours for the business;
  • Frequent money transfer to “risk” countries;
  • Third party cash deposits made at various bank branches and via ATMs;
  • Laundering of cash through casinos, import/export trades, etc.; and
  • Use of the hawala or other informal banking systems.

* This is only a notional list of indicators, which is not exhaustive. No one transaction or red flag by itself is a clear indicator of trafficking in persons; accordingly, financial institutions may consider applying red flags in combination with other factors, such as a customer’s profile and expected transaction activity. For a more comprehensive list of red flag indicators, see FATF, Money Laundering Risks Arising from Trafficking in Human Beings and Smuggling of Migrants, FATF Report (July 2011), Annex B. See also FinCEN Guidance on Recognizing Activity that May be Associated with Human Smuggling and Human Trafficking—Financial Red Flags.

Multilateral Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking Through Global and Regional Engagement


2017 Political Declaration Reaffirming the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons

On September 27, 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted a political declaration reaffirming commitments to implement the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2010. The Political Declaration includes a directive to examine the progress achieved and the continuing challenges for international organizations and officials at the national, regional, and global levels. The Political Declaration also strengthens the capacity of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to collect information in order to connect and harmonize anti-trafficking efforts across UN programs and policies. To implement the Global Plan of Action a working group was established to advise and assist in the implementation of the Palermo Protocol.

United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict (2016-2017)

The UN Security Council (the Council) adopted its first resolution on human trafficking (2331) in 2016, which called on member states to investigate, disrupt, and dismantle criminal networks by utilizing anti-money laundering, anti-corruption, and counterterrorism laws. It also emphasized the importance of international cooperation in law enforcement and strong partnerships with the private sector and civil society.

In 2017, the Council reiterated its condemnation of this crime by unanimously adopting resolution 2388, which strongly emphasizes its concern in particular for the heightened vulnerability of children to exploitation and abuse and the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. It also requested the Secretary-General to further explore the links between child trafficking in conflict situations and the grave violations against children affected by armed conflict, with the view to addressing all violations and abuses against children in armed conflict.

These two resolutions underscore the importance of collecting evidence to ensure perpetrators are held accountable and the Council’s intention to integrate an anti-trafficking component into the work of the Council’s relevant Sanctions Committees. The Council stressed the importance of cooperation in enforcing international law in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases and further emphasized that peacekeeping and political missions can support the efforts of host states in combating human trafficking.


In March 2018, at the Fifth Meeting of National Authorities of the Americas on human trafficking, OAS member states reviewed progress made in the implementation of the Second Work Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemisphere (2015-2018), the only region in which every country is party to the Palermo Protocol. Member states shared best practices and national experiences, discussed challenges, reaffirmed the region’s commitments to combating trafficking in persons, and adopted the Hemispheric Efforts Against Trafficking in Persons (Declaration of Mexico) to extend the current Work Plan to 2020. The declaration, among other things, promotes psychological, social, medical, and legal assistance for victims; calls for the update of national anti-trafficking legislation to define and criminalize the specific acts, means, and purpose of human trafficking as required by the Palermo Protocol; and calls for cooperation with the private sector and civil society to combat trafficking. The Second Work Plan recommends activities between OAS member states and provides mandates to the General Secretariat of the OAS in the areas of prevention, protection, and prosecution (the "3Ps"). The Second Work Plan also underlines supply chains, not previously highlighted in the first work plan, encouraging codes of conduct to ensure the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of workers.


In 2003, the OSCE created the Office of Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings to promote a victim-centered and human rights-based approach to combating human trafficking and to assist participating states in implementing effective policies. The OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (2003), which is grounded in the Palermo Protocol, addresses the participating states’ implementation of their commitments across the OSCE’s three dimensions of security (politico-military, economic and environmental, and human). Of note is the 2013 Addendum to the OSCE Action Plan, which includes commitments addressing domestic servitude in diplomatic households, internal trafficking, and the prevention of human trafficking in the tourism industry and in supply chains. In 2017, the OSCE Ministerial Council adopted new commitments addressing preventing human trafficking in government procurement supply chains, as well as strengthening efforts to combat child trafficking. The OSCE is currently working on strengthening its policies to prevent human trafficking in its own institutional procurement of contracts for goods and services. In addition, OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has an Adviser on Anti-Human Trafficking Issues who provides technical assistance to participating States on best practices and on their national referral mechanisms.


The Bali Process is a non-binding forum for policy dialogue, information-sharing, and practical cooperation to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond to address shared challenges on a regional basis. It raises awareness regarding migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons, and related transnational crimes. It also serves to encourage cooperation and coordination among member states, the private sector, and with other regional and global initiatives to address effectively these crimes. At the 2016 Ministerial Conference, Ministers confirmed the main objectives and priorities by endorsing the Bali Process Declaration on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons, and Related Transnational Crime, which supported comprehensive strategies to address member states’ interests, such as engaging with the private sector to promote and apply humane, non-abusive labor practices throughout supply chains and implement transparent and fair recruitment processes. The Bali Process Government and Business Forum, which launched in 2017, is a business-government partnership to combat human trafficking that highlights the critical role of the private sector in preventing trafficking in supply chains. The Bali Process has also established a Regional Support Office, which supports an ad hoc working group on human trafficking and strengthens practical cooperation to combat trafficking in persons, among other issues.