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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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Finland remained on Tier 1. These efforts included prosecuting significantly more trafficking cases, establishing a working group to develop an NRM to standardize the identification of victims, and identifying more labor trafficking cases involving seasonal foreign berry pickers. Additionally, the government enacted new laws that strengthened trafficking victim protection rights by separating the provision of services from the criminal process; formalizing the victim identification process, which simplified the process for receiving and maintaining assistance; and enshrining the National Assistance System as a national center of excellence on trafficking in persons issues and assistance to victims of trafficking. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities 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. Reports persisted police inappropriately penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Extensive pre-trial investigative delays and judicial system backlogs across trafficking cases, in some instances, impeded the prosecution of traffickers and provision of services to victims. Finally, some foreign workers, including seasonal workers, continued to be defined by the law and employers as “entrepreneurs,” leaving them without certain labor protections and government oversight to ensure employers and recruiters did not charge illegal fees.

  • Cease inappropriately penalizing victims solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the trafficking statute.
  • Reduce extensive pre-trail investigative delays and judicial system backlogs across trafficking cases by providing additional human resources to police and training prosecutors on understanding and applying the trafficking law and managing trafficking cases in a timely manner as not to inadvertently exceed the statute of limitations or delay the provision of services.
  • Ensure foreign workers, particularly seasonal wild berry pickers, defined as “entrepreneurs” by the law, and employees receive employment rights, including employee benefits and basic labor protection, either by amending the Employment Contracts Act or in accordance with the Finnish Seasonal Workers Act.
  • Establish an NRM standardizing the identification and referral process, define the roles of all relevant government agencies and actors, and train those actors to ensure uniform implementation across the country.
  • Ensure all regional service providers are familiar with victims’ rights to assistance and know how to offer high-quality services that are consistent with national standards.
  • Train local authorities, particularly in north and northeast Finland, on proactively identifying trafficking victims and identifying and enforcing trafficking crimes, specifically sex trafficking crimes.
  • Conduct public awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable populations.

The government maintained 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 crimes 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.  In 2022, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigated 121 trafficking cases, compared with 129 cases in 2021.  Authorities prosecuted 59 cases, a nearly tenfold increase from six cases in 2021, the majority of which were alleged labor traffickers implicated in cases involving foreign berry pickers.  Courts convicted six traffickers in 2022, compared with five in 2021.  Sentences ranged from one year and six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment.  In 2022, the NBI arrested a senior ministerial advisor on suspicion of accepting a bribe and abusing public office in connection with a labor trafficking investigation involving berry pickers from Thailand.  The government suspended the official for the duration of the investigation.  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 government deployed police liaison officers and a liaison prosecutor to Estonia, customs and border guards to all Baltic States, and border guard liaison officers to Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, Russia, and China.  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.

The NBI maintained a dedicated human trafficking and illegal immigration intelligence unit 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 Helsinki Police Department maintained three teams comprising 28 individuals who coordinated trafficking investigations:  (1) a specialized unit dedicated to high-profile and cross-jurisdiction trafficking cases nationwide; (2) an investigative team focused on sex trafficking nationwide; and (3) a labor trafficking team working solely on cases originating in the Helsinki metro area.  Experts noted increased efforts by police 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.  Protocol required police to submit a report to the prosecutors’ office in all suspected trafficking cases.  The prosecutor’s office of Southern Finland, which included Helsinki, maintained a trafficking information-sharing network, connecting prosecutors with experience and expertise working on trafficking cases in all local districts.  Extensive judicial system backlogs across all cases, including trafficking, continued throughout the country.  Civil society and government representatives stated the lack of trained prosecutors and resources led to long delays and untenable workloads for individual prosecutors.  Representatives stressed that, although resource constraints were not limited to trafficking-related cases, they could have had an outsized impact on trafficking-related crimes.  According to an NGO, many trafficking cases lingered in pre-trial investigation so long that if authorities were unable to reach the high burden of proof required for a trafficking conviction, they were unable to pursue lesser charges due to the, by then expired, statute of limitations of related non-trafficking crimes.  The deputy chancellor of justice openly criticized police for unjustified delays in investigations, noting some pre-trial investigations lasted longer than four years.  The deputy chancellor also criticized investigators for failing to recognize indicators of trafficking in their investigations and pointed out, as a result, victims could be denied services they would otherwise be entitled to if the crime was correctly investigated as trafficking.  In response to the criticism of police investigation delays specifically related to trafficking cases, a representative of the National Police Board said Finland had fewer than 2,700 active investigators across all police units nationwide, the lowest per capita rate of any nation in western and northern Europe, due to other government budget priorities.  Multiple civil society and government representatives criticized the Ministry of Interior’s allocation of police financial and human resources, specifically to anti-trafficking.

In a 2022 report, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) examined the application of criminal provisions in sexual abuse cases involving sex trafficking victims.  The report found authorities did not apply the provisions consistently in practice, and the standard penalties imposed – fines equivalent to 20-25 days of income – did not reflect the nature of the crime.  The report recommended a review of the law to amend current penalties and additional training for handling of trafficking cases.  In 2022, 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 officials developed a web-based training for all airport stakeholders, such as airlines and ground handling companies to identify and report potential trafficking victims.  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.

The government increased protection efforts.  Multiple actors within the government and civil society identified and referred trafficking victims to the national assistance system.  The assistance system was the main channel for identifying victims via referrals, and, through it, the government provided direct care and funding for third-party care.  The assistance system admitted 367 trafficking victims (21 children), a significant increase from 243 (28 children) in 2021.  Government officials underscored the exceptional nature of the statistics, noting a majority of referrals were the result of one investigation involving trafficking in berry picking, and statistics were not representative of trends.  The assistance system reported 17 percent of new recipients were sex trafficking victims, 59 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining 24 percent were victims of forced marriage or other crimes classified as trafficking under Finnish law.  Authorities highlighted a significant number of new recipients (236 of 367) became trafficking victims in Finland rather than abroad, a growing trend over the past few years.  While police and immigration officials used written guidelines for identification and referral, observers expressed concerns with regional differences in victim referrals and noted the dearth of victim referrals from within certain communities and regions was likely due to the lack of resources and officials’ experience in identifying victims and their poor understanding of the referral process.  According to NGOs, the lack of training of police, municipal workers, and social workers inhibited victim identification and referral.  The nondiscrimination ombudsman also underscored this shortcoming in a 2022 report to Parliament.  To address these needs, in 2022, the national anti-trafficking coordinator established a two-year working group to develop an NRM to help standardize the identification of trafficking victims.

Residency status of an individual affected the scope of assistance received by trafficking victims.  Overall, victim assistance was good; however, 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.  Victims without legal residency received housing and welfare services from the assistance system; whereas, victims with legal residency received benefits from municipal social health and welfare programs.  NGOs raised concerns about how municipal social welfare service boards would be able to meet the needs of trafficking victims and provide assistance uniformly since they did not have sufficient resources to address crime-related issues such as trafficking.  According to an observer, some municipalities were hostile toward trafficking victims and municipal and social workers lacked training on providing services.  Observers noted the assistance system had the expertise and capabilities to provide services municipalities lacked, and municipalities often did not understand how services would be reimbursed.  A government official noted legislation concerning benefits for victims was unclear and originally intended to assist undocumented victims and not legal residents of Finland.  Subsequently, the government amended the legislation, updating the provision of services to trafficking victims.  The amendments formally enshrined the assistance system as the national center of excellence on trafficking and assistance for victims and defined the identification of a trafficking victim as a person accepted into the assistance system, which simplified the process for receiving and maintaining assistance.  The legal changes also clarified the role of the assistance system in advising victims who had legal residency by providing consultation for such victims to help assess their needs and ensure they received appropriate services to which they were entitled.

Additionally, the amendments separated the provision of victim services from the criminal process.  Under the amended legislation, the government no longer required victims to assist in criminal proceedings to receive services from the assistance system.  However, due to investigative and judicial delays, some victims did not receive services in a timely manner.  Services included transportation to a safe house; psychological, medical, and legal assistance; or shelter.  While there were no shelters dedicated to male victims, the assistance system provided safe housing as needed.  Service providers sheltered most trafficking victims in private accommodations.  The Joutseno Reception Center was 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 victims in a migrant reception center specifically for children, and Finnish child 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.  The government spent €1.2 million ($1.3 million) on trafficking victim assistance and protection, compared with €1 million ($1.1 million) in 2021.  In addition, the government allocated €240,000 ($256,410) to an NGO for victim support services, approximately the same amount as in 2021.  In 2022, the government continued its partnership with NGOs, the private sector, and other organizations to implement a project providing training and full-time jobs to trafficking victims residing in Finland.  As part of the project, the assistance system, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (MEAE), and the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control published a report on building and working life skills and competence of trafficking victims.  The report found a need for training on trafficking within employment services and recommended MEAE draft guidelines for employment services on working with trafficking victims.  The report also found the time limit placed on immigrant integration services provided through legislation prevented victims from having access to meaningful and realistic opportunities for necessary job skills.

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 who are stateless or do not have a right of residence a reflection period of up to six months during which they could receive services while considering whether to assist law enforcement.  According to the assistance system, the government granted 14 victims a reflection period in 2022.  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 eight victims and renewed 20 permits in 2022.  To promote the detection of work-related exploitation and trafficking, the law allowed 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.  Despite the criminal code including various provisions to prevent the inappropriate penalization of trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, observers continued to note that the inappropriate detention or prosecution of trafficking victims 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.  As part of the NAP, the nondiscrimination ombudsman published a 2022 report on the penalization of trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of their victimization.  The report found the principle of non-punishment was not well-known among police, prosecutors, and experts in criminal proceedings and there was a lack of practical experience in applying the principle.  MOJ reported it would use the findings to coordinate legal aid and improve the standing of trafficking victims within the criminal process, completing its work by 2024.  In addition, the nondiscrimination ombudsman organized a seminar for government officials, police, lawyers, and NGOs on improving the identification and status of victims forced into criminal activity and ensuring the application of the non-punishment principle across all crimes committed as a result of being trafficked.

The government maintained prevention activities.  The national anti-trafficking coordinator oversaw all aspects of the country’s anti-trafficking efforts, including the development and implementation of the 2021-2023 NAP to combat trafficking.  The NAP identified several action items and outlined the government’s multi-year financial commitment to anti-trafficking projects, which included €140,000 ($149,570) to develop a cooperation network on the intersection of trafficking and gender-based violence; €260,000 ($277,780) to understand illicit financial flows in trafficking crimes, particularly child trafficking; and €55,000 ($58,760) to conduct a study on the needs of pre-trial investigation authorities to combat trafficking.  Similar to previous years, the assistance system did not conduct or fund any domestic anti-trafficking awareness campaigns.  Globally, the government continued to fund a wide range of anti-trafficking programs, including a prevention project in Burundi, investing more than €85,000 ($90,810) in 2022.  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.

While Finnish law prohibited all forms of forced labor and the government effectively enforced the law, there were notable gaps for foreign workers.  During the last reporting period, 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 protections for foreign workers in the berry picking and wild produce industry.  While the overall impacts of the law remained unknown given the short period of evaluation, police and labor inspectors, among others, noted the law codified certain protections for berry pickers, making labor trafficking identification, investigation, and prosecution easier.  For example, high-profile arrests in labor trafficking cases involving berry pickers directly resulted from investigations that began after the new law entered into force.  However, many experts noted gaps in protections remained, such as the law continued to define berry pickers as “entrepreneurs,” thus, disqualifying them from employee benefits, leave, or worker protections.  In addition, according to a Finnish media outlet, while the law prevented “unreliable” companies and operators from bringing berry pickers to Finland, the law did not provide sufficient definitions of unreliability and did not provide means for monitoring the reliability of operating companies.  The practice of categorizing foreign workers as “entrepreneurs” also extended to other sectors, such as construction.  According to labor inspectors, companies increasingly downgraded positions from full-time employee or employee-contractor positions to positions designated as self-organized entrepreneur, not only leaving foreign workers unentitled to certain worker benefits but without government oversight to ensure workers did not pay recruitment, training, or other fees, which the government prohibited.  In 2022, MEAE commissioned a report to examine possible amendments to the Employment Contracts Act and recommend improvement to the rights of workers.  Subsequently, MEAE began preparing amendments that would grant employer-employee relationship or equivalent status to berry pickers under some conditions.  A Finnish news outlet reported berry firms opposed any legislative changes that would grant berry pickers employment rights, claiming berry pickers would prefer to maintain the entrepreneurship model.  Experts criticized the article, refuting the claims that vulnerable berry pickers would prefer to work without employment rights and chiding the berry companies for ignoring the experiences of trafficking victims.

The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) monitored compliance, including overseeing the employment terms for workers, and conducted workplace inspections, related to the use of foreign labor and proper payment to foreign workers.  OSHA was also responsible for reporting suspected labor trafficking violations to the police.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the MEAE maintained a working group to improve labor enforcement in the domestic work sector.  MEAE published a 2022 assessment on due diligence, including a review of existing legislation on working life, environmental regulation, and human trafficking.  The assessment found a due diligence legislation would likely provide few human rights benefits for the high cost to Finnish companies and noted Finland currently has due diligence obligations in place regarding human rights and the environment within its legal system.  In 2022, MEAE published an instruction card for employees working in immigrant integration services with information on recognizing indicators of labor trafficking, referring potential victims to the assistance system, and assisting migrant workers with understanding their rights and available resources.  In 2022, a government-funded NGO published a report on labor trafficking, identifying issues with pre-trial investigation delays and the inappropriate penalization of victims who committed unlawful acts as a direct result of being trafficked.  For the second year, the government participated in a project advancing the work of an online trafficking identification tool for labor inspectors by coordinating training and enhancing cooperation among Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian authorities.

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, and South and Central Asia.  For the first time, the national assistance system notes most identified victims were initially subjected to trafficking in Finland as opposed to before their arrival in country.  Traffickers operate from abroad using threats of violence, debt leverage, and other forms of coercion.  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.  Foreign-born workers and immigrants, many of whom arrive in Finland legally, are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the agriculture, construction, food processing, restaurant, and transport industries, and as cleaners, car washers, gardeners, and domestic workers.  The government identifies domestic workers at a particularly high risk for labor exploitation, including trafficking.  According to labor inspectors, companies downgrade positions from full-time employee or employee-contractor positions to positions designated as self-organized, non-contract entrepreneurs – which have different work parameters than foreign workers and are not entitled to employee benefits or basic labor protections – and charge recruitment, training, or other fees.  As a result, foreign workers, such as seasonal Thai berry pickers who remain especially vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking, must identify as entrepreneurs.  In 2022, seasonal Thai berry pickers comprised a significant percentage of identified trafficking victims.  Traffickers move victims, many of whom are first exploited in southern and eastern Europe, to Finland for short inter-city stopovers, where they are further exploited, before transiting to another stop-over country.  Foreign nationals and Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Finland, are vulnerable to trafficking.  Southern Finland, which includes Helsinki, remains the primary location for trafficking crimes.

Åland is an autonomous, demilitarized, and predominantly Swedish-speaking region of Finland.  The nondiscrimination ombudsman does not have jurisdiction in the region on matters of social welfare and healthcare, and, while it does have authority on issues related to Finland’s criminal code, at times, in practice, neither the nondiscrimination ombudsman nor the national rapporteur have competence or authority there.  A separate police department in Åland reports to the semi-autonomous government.  During the reporting period, the assistance system reported identifying zero trafficking victims, compared with one in 2021.  However, labor representatives note trafficking, particularly labor trafficking, is equally prevalent in Åland as it is in other parts of Finland.  Government and civil society representatives note that a lack of understanding of trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, in north and northeast Finland acts as a significant barrier to victim identification and likely results in under-reporting in the region.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future