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Finland (Tier 1)

The Government of Finland fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, while considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Finland remained on Tier 1. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases, convicting more traffickers, and hiring 13 new labor inspectors to focus specifically on monitoring for forced labor. The government also hired three new investigators within the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which subsequently operationalized a dedicated human trafficking and illegal immigration intelligence unit. Additionally, the government approved a new three- year national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking and financially committed to several anti-trafficking activities. The deputy chancellor of justice opened an inquiry into police efforts to investigate trafficking and other forms of exploitation and published a report revealing shortcomings in identifying trafficking cases and unjustified delays in pre-trial investigations. Furthermore, the government entered into force a new law strengthening worker protection rights for foreign workers in the berry picking and wild produce industry and an amendment expanding the obligation of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) to report suspected labor trafficking violations to the police for a preliminary investigation. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities prosecuted fewer traffickers and continued to use laws against pandering, discrimination, and usury, among others, to investigate and prosecute some suspected traffickers, which weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. Assistance to victims was conditional on police investigating a case as trafficking, thereby denying services to victims who did not want to pursue criminal cases or those who were exploited outside of Finland and where lack of jurisdiction made an investigation unlikely. Moreover, reports persisted that police penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Finally, municipalities continued to lack the capabilities to address the needs of victims.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and labor trafficking cases using the trafficking statute and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms.
  • Enforce the non-punishment provision and cease prosecuting victims for unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit.
  • Ensure all victims have full access to services, such as residence permit applications, shelters, and health and social services, regardless of whether and under which statutes a suspected trafficker is investigated or prosecuted.
  • Ensure all municipalities have policies and procedures consistent with national standards and allocate resources so that regional service providers and municipal government officials are familiar with victims’ rights to assistance and know how to offer high-quality services.
  • Train regional authorities, particularly in north and northeast Finland, on identifying and enforcing trafficking crimes, specifically sex trafficking crimes.
  • Develop clear guidance for national victim assistance system personnel on treating victims who do not choose to involve the police.
  • Train judges, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors on applying the trafficking law.
  • Conduct public awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable populations.

PROSECUTION

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Chapter 25, Section 3 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed sentences of between four months and six years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and between two and 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued to use laws against pandering, discrimination, and usury, among others, to investigate and prosecute some suspected traffickers; the penalties for these crimes were generally far less severe than those for trafficking crimes. Pandemic-related judicial delays in processing trafficking cases continued. In 2021, the NBI investigated 129 cases, a significant increase from 87 cases in 2020. Authorities prosecuted six cases, a decrease from 14 in 2020. Courts convicted five traffickers, an increase from one in 2020. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes. The NBI and regional police departments cooperated with foreign governments on transnational investigations, including a joint investigation team with the Czech Republic on a sex trafficking case. The NBI, however, noted difficulty conducting trafficking investigations when crimes occurred abroad. The government deployed police liaison officers and a liaison prosecutor to Estonia, as well as customs and border guards to all Baltic States. As part of a regional project to enhance law enforcement cooperation and training on trafficking, Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian authorities collaborated to strengthen capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, disrupt the financial gains of traffickers, and help victims access justice.

In 2021, the National Police Board established three new investigator positions within the NBI, which subsequently operationalized its dedicated human trafficking and illegal immigration intelligence unit composed of 18 investigators who focused on coordinating with regional police departments, improving police understanding of trafficking, supporting a standard procedure for investigating trafficking cases across the country, and raising awareness of trafficking crimes. The unit also produced a monthly and annual national situation report on trafficking issues and worked to strengthen international cooperation. The prosecutor’s office of Southern Finland, which included Helsinki—the primary location for trafficking crimes—maintained a parallel anti-trafficking unit composed of 10 specialized prosecutors. As in previous years, experts raised concerns that police prioritized other types of conventional cases and crimes and prosecutors were often unwilling to pursue trafficking charges due to the high legal standard for trafficking-related convictions. Civil society representatives and the national rapporteur for trafficking—who acted as an independent advocate for victims, coordinated the drafting and implementation of the new NAP, and monitored and assessed the government’s actions to combat trafficking—noted increased efforts by authorities to equitably enforce trafficking laws but recognized regional variances, particularly in north and northeast Finland, in resources and subject matter expertise in identifying and enforcing trafficking crimes, specifically sex trafficking.

During the reporting period, a Finnish newspaper published an investigative report on the deficiencies in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases in Finland, citing examples over the past four years, such as the failure to investigate trafficking claims, the decision to pursue trafficking cases as lesser crimes, the inability for victims to pursue legal action, and officers and prosecutors routinely failing to question or involve victims in investigations. As a result of the article, the deputy chancellor of justice opened an inquiry into police efforts to investigate trafficking and other forms of exploitation and published a report acknowledging “serious shortcomings in the identification of trafficking in human beings by the police and the prompt conduct of pre- trial investigations.” The report reviewed more than 50 investigations, issued 12 reprimands to the police concerning unlawful delays, flagged 15 cases to be reviewed by the chief investigator or police, and remarked on the conduct of one prosecutor. In addition, the report revealed unjustified delays occurred in almost every police station in the country with some pre-trial investigations lasting longer than four years. The deputy chancellor chided investigators for assessing cases too narrowly and failing to recognize elements of trafficking in their investigations and pointed out, as a result, victims could be denied free legal assistance that they would otherwise be entitled to if the crime was correctly investigated as trafficking. In addition, the deputy chancellor stated that lasting improvements required police to implement a review of internal processes and hold officers accountable for the identification and prompt investigation of trafficking crimes. Finally, the deputy chancellor tasked the National Police Board to provide information on the duration of trafficking investigations and on all pre-trial investigations lasting more than 12 months, with a deadline of July 2022. After the report’s release, Southwest Finland Police Department re-opened eight investigations and increased officer training on trafficking.

In 2021, the government established a new national anti-trafficking competence group with participation from all 12 regional police departments, NBI, and the Border Guard. As the lead of the group, the NBI trafficking unit added a new training program for Border Guard officers on working with traumatized victims. Additionally, the government provided a range of trafficking-related trainings for police, immigration officers, and prison and probation services authorities, including recognizing trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, and the prosecutor’s office held trainings for prosecutors throughout the country. The government developed and organized a two-year training program for pre-trial and judicial authorities on identifying all forms of trafficking to improve authorities’ basic expertise and competence and, in turn, the criminal justice process. Finally, the police university college led a working group responsible for strengthening multi-authority cooperation in combating trafficking.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts. Multiple actors within the government and civil society were empowered to identify and refer trafficking victims. Police and immigration officials used written guidelines for identification and referral, which, in 2021, the National Police Board updated, conducted mandatory training on, and incorporated into a special course for law enforcement on identifying trafficking victims. The national assistance system was the main channel for identifying victims via referrals and, through it, the government provided both direct care and funding for third-party care. The assistance system admitted 243 trafficking victims (28 children), compared with 247 (10 children) in 2020. The assistance system reported 28 percent of new recipients were sex trafficking victims, 43 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining 29 percent were victims of forced marriage or other crimes classified as trafficking under Finnish law. Finnish law required police to pursue cases specifically as trafficking crimes in order for victims to receive services through the assistance system; emergency care was available regardless. In cases where victimization occurred outside of Finland and the conditions of the relevant jurisdiction made law enforcement cooperation unlikely, police did not open a criminal investigation. The government did not provide guidance to assistance system personnel regarding referrals of victims who were exploited within Finland and did not wish to contact the police.

Residence status of an individual affected the scope of assistance received by trafficking victims. Overall, victim assistance was good, although there were large variations in quality between services offered through the national assistance system, which encompassed various Finnish Immigration Services (FIS) programs, and services offered through municipalities. A 2021 Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare report examined the disparity in the provision of services between foreign nationals, who received housing and welfare services from the national assistance system, and Finnish citizens, who received benefits from municipal social health and welfare programs. While observers broadly agreed with some of the study’s findings, they raised concerns about how municipal social welfare service boards would be able to meet the needs of trafficking victims and provide assistance uniformly. Observers noted the national assistance system had the expertise and capabilities to provide services that municipalities lacked, and municipalities often did not understand how services would be reimbursed. Observers also noted municipalities experienced difficulties with victim service provision because they functioned under the general framework of social welfare and did not have sufficient resources to deal with crime-related issues such as trafficking or victims of trafficking. Since the national assistance system was able to provide more suitable assistance than municipalities, the standard of service, in some incidences, deteriorated as an individual’s residence status changed. Helsinki’s head of adult social work noted the legislation concerning benefits for victims was unclear and originally intended to assist undocumented victims and not citizens of Finland. As a result, municipal social services referred few victims, which experts attributed to a lack of experience in identifying victims and a poor understanding of the referral process. Subsequently, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health tasked a working group to examine changes to victim referral processes and establish of a national referral mechanism as proposed in the NAP. Furthermore, according to some anti-trafficking advocates, the placement of the assistance system within immigration services could misrepresent trafficking as a crime requiring migration and reduce the focus on trafficking committed within Finland. The working group considered the transfer of the victim assistance system to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to address this concern and to weaken the link between the provision of assistance to victims and their participation in the justice process, which acted as an obstacle to victims’ willingness to come forward, but efforts stalled due to non- consensus among members of the working group and concerns about the lack of trafficking-related expertise outside the assistance system.

Once victims were referred to the assistance system, consultants evaluated the case and decided on the victim’s course of care, which could include transportation to a safe house; psychological, medical, and legal assistance; or shelter. There was one government-funded shelter specifically for trafficking victims, though it accepted only women and their children; there were no shelters dedicated to male victims. Care providers sheltered most trafficking victims in private accommodations. The Joutseno Reception Center was both an FIS agency and the name of a physical center that could temporarily house up to 300 trafficking victims, when necessary, and provide social and health services. Social welfare, immigration, labor, and medical personnel staffed the center and provided assistance to victims. As an agency, the center developed, coordinated, and maintained assistance for all trafficking victims nationally, including children, and helped place victims in housing across the country. Authorities placed unaccompanied foreign child trafficking victims in a migrant reception center specifically for children, and Finnish child trafficking victims, who could not return to their families, in foster care. Child services assigned Finnish child victims a guardian to serve as a legal representative. In 2021, the government incorporated specific information on the exploitation of children, including trafficking, into an online learning program for professionals who came across potential child victims. The government spent €1 million ($1.13 million) on trafficking victim assistance and protection, approximately the same as in 2020. In addition, the government allocated €240,000 ($272,110) to NGOs for victim support services, approximately the same amount as in 2020. During the reporting period, the government in partnership with NGOs, the private sector, and other organizations implemented a pilot project to provide training and full-time jobs to trafficking victims residing in Finland. The project aimed to improve working life skills and competence of trafficking victims, develop employment services offered to victims, and increase the involvement of the private sector in combating trafficking.

FIS conditioned eligibility to receive a specialized residence permit on the victim’s cooperation with police to commence a criminal investigation. Delayed investigations and police failure to submit the appropriate paperwork requesting victims to remain in the country, left victims susceptible to deportation. Finnish law allowed foreign victims a six-month reflection period during which they could receive care and services while considering whether to assist law enforcement, and the law allowed legal residents a recovery period of up to three months. According to the assistance system, the government granted 16 victims a reflection period in 2021. Victims could receive renewable temporary residence permits, which were valid for six to 12 months and allowed victims to seek employment. Authorities provided residence permits to 13 victims and renewed 15 permits in 2021. To promote the detection of work-related exploitation and trafficking, in 2021, the government amended the Aliens Act, broadening the rights of exploited employees to apply for an extended residence permit or for a certificate of expanded right to work and change employers; however, eligibility depended on employees already holding a residence permit in Finland that included the right to work. Finnish police were not prohibited from prosecuting victims who, as a result of their trafficking, committed acts that violated national law. Observers continued to point out that the non-punishment provision existed in theory, but in practice, the detaining or prosecuting of trafficking victims for committing unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit continued to be a problem, particularly with police treating users of illegal drugs, potential victims who had been forced into criminality, and foreign nationals in commercial sex as perpetrators of crimes. The government identified several such victims in Finnish prisons and noted foreign-born children committing theft as a group particularly misunderstood by law enforcement. Subsequently, the government tasked the Ministry of Justice to provide training and relevant information to authorities to ensure victims were not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention activities. The national anti- trafficking coordinator oversaw all aspects of the country’s anti- trafficking efforts, including the development of the NAP. In 2021, the government approved a new three-year NAP to combat trafficking, the first update since 2016. The government consulted survivors, experts, and civil society representatives during the drafting process. The NAP identified several action items and outlined the government’s financial commitment to combat trafficking, which included €300,000 ($340,140) to develop tools to better reach and identify victims, €15,000 ($17,010) to review government-level coordination structures for anti- trafficking action, €15,000 ($17,010) for increasing awareness among business and labor market organizations, and €240,000 ($272,110) for data-driven, anti-trafficking actions. As a result of the NAP, the national anti-trafficking coordinator oversaw training development and organization for occupational safety and health authorities, social welfare and health care professionals, immigration service authorities, authorities in public employment and business services, and all airport border control staff. Similar to the previous reporting period, the national assistance system did not conduct or fund any domestic anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. However, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health funded €1.6 million ($1.8 million) for outreach to individuals engaged in commercial sex through its sponsorship of an NGO. Globally, the government continued to fund a wide range of anti-trafficking programs, including training in Laos and a prevention project in Burundi, investing more than €85,000 ($96,370) in 2021. In response to an inflow of Ukrainian refugees who were fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and arriving in Finland, the government appointed a cross-sectoral group to coordinate issues related to trafficking and the impact of the situation on Ukrainian seasonal workers, a group previously identified as vulnerable to trafficking. In addition to following the EU agreement on providing temporary protection to people leaving Ukraine, Finland offered temporary protection to Ukrainian nationals and their family members who fled Ukraine before Russia’s full-scale invasion and non-EU nationals who had resided legally in Ukraine and could not return to their home country. The Ministry of Interior operated a 24-hour hotline and website in multiple languages exclusively for trafficking victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

To improve the legal position of seasonal berry pickers and combat labor abuse and trafficking, the government entered into force a new law strengthening worker protection rights for foreign workers in the berry picking and wild produce industry. The new law outlined in more detail the monitoring, compliance, and associated penalties for negligence and prohibited companies from charging for recruitment services, such as fees, and job training. OSHA monitored compliance with occupational safety and health legislation, including overseeing the employment terms for workers, and conducted workplace inspections, including related to the use of foreign labor and proper payment to foreign workers. During the reporting period, the government also entered into force an amendment to the law on occupational safety and health, expanding the obligation of OSHA to report suspected labor trafficking violations to the police for a preliminary investigation. In 2021, the government hired 13 new labor inspectors to focus specifically on monitoring forced labor. The government participated in a new project aimed at strengthening the knowledge of and approach to human trafficking, particularly in an international context. The project advanced the work of the online trafficking identification tool for labor inspectors that launched in 2020 by coordinating training and enhancing cooperation among Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian authorities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health drafted a report on the occupational safety concerns of domestic workers and established a working group with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment to improve labor enforcement in the domestic work sector. Multiple agencies developed and conducted training and webinars on the structures and practices of employment services with an eye toward trafficking.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Finland, and to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Finland abroad. Victims primarily originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. The national assistance system notes most identified victims were subjected to trafficking before their arrival in Finland. The national assistance system also notes an increase in child trafficking victims in recent years. Traffickers operate from abroad using threats of violence, debt leverage, and other forms of coercion. Authorities express concern about Romanian criminal organizations exploiting individuals from their home countries in Finland. Experts note most labor trafficking involves small-scale operations in businesses, rather than larger criminal syndicates. Authorities report asylum-seekers and other migrants, many of whom continue to reside in Finland for years after receiving a negative decision on their asylum claim, are the two groups most vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers threaten to expose their unlawful residency if they complain of their exploitation in sex or labor trafficking. A Finnish newspaper reports an emerging scheme involving cleaning companies misrepresenting asylum-seekers as entrepreneurs, who have different work parameters than foreign workers, to avoid paying them overtime and holiday pay. Foreign-born workers and immigrants, many of whom arrive in Finland legally, are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the construction, restaurant, agriculture, and transport industries and as cleaners, gardeners, and domestic workers. The government identifies domestic workers at a particularly high risk for labor exploitation, including trafficking. Staff at the Ombudsman for Nondiscrimination report traffickers force victims to pay for jobs and unpaid internships, particularly in the construction industry, before transporting them to Finland. Authorities report the recruitment and exploitation of foreign workers from Nepal in the restaurant sector. According to media reports, traffickers extort, charge illegal recruitment fees, and subject Vietnamese immigrants and temporary workers to exploitation in vegetable farms in Western Finland; civil society contacts identify this community as especially vulnerable to trafficking crimes. Seasonal berry pickers continue to be especially vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking. Foreign nationals and Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Finland, are highly vulnerable to trafficking. Southern Finland, which includes Helsinki, remains the primary location for trafficking crimes. The national assistance system reports identifying one trafficking victim from Åland, an autonomous, demilitarized, and predominantly Swedish-speaking region of Finland. Experts working in victim services identify a lack of understanding of trafficking as a significant barrier to victim identification in Åland, as well as in north and northeast Finland.

U.S. Department of State

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