UN and OSCE draw attention to the financial aspect of trafficking in human beings

On the first ‘World Day against Trafficking in Persons’ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for further action to end the crime of human trafficking. In his message, Ban stressed the financial aspect of human trafficking: “To stop the traffickers, we must sever funding pipelines and seize assets.” Two recent international reports also drew specific attention to the financial dimension of human trafficking. According to these reports from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), substantial sums of money are earned from human trafficking. The OSCE added that greater attention could be devoted to anti-money laundering activities in efforts to combat human trafficking, and vice versa. The Dutch National Rapporteur endorses the appeal by the UN and the OSCE.

Like any other criminals, human traffickers have an interest in laundering the proceeds of their crimes in order to remain out of sight of law-enforcement agencies. The methods employed in combating money laundering could also be used to identify and analyze financial flows relating to human trafficking and to confiscate the proceeds from the crime. Too often, however, anti-human trafficking and anti-money laundering agencies operate in isolation from one another, according to the OSCE. On the one hand, the police and prosecution authorities are not always properly equipped to trace the financial activities of human traffickers; on the other, financial investigators do not always possess sufficient expertise regarding the operations of human traffickers.

In its report entitled “Leveraging Anti-Money Laundering Regimes to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings”, the OSCE therefore calls for more effective use of financial investigations in human trafficking cases, better identification and analysis of suspicious transactions and more effective cooperation between law-enforcement agencies and financial institutions. The recommendations made by the OSCE are addressed to financial institutions, the police and prosecution authorities, the business community and NGOs. According to the OSCE, the private sector can play a particularly important role in preventing human traffickers from laundering the proceeds of their crimes. It mentions the specific example of banks and money transfer offices that criminals use to transfer and move their earnings.

The role of banks in combating human trafficking

According to the annual report of the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), most reports of suspicious transactions in 2013 came from banks and money transfer offices. The FIU reported that a substantial proportion of these reports were possibly related to human trafficking. In the Netherlands, banks are informed about indications of human trafficking. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of unusual transactions reported by the banks. The FIU will continue to devote attention to the reporting of human trafficking-related transactions by banks in 2014.

Benefits for the Dutch approach to combating human trafficking

To tackle human trafficking effectively, it must be made visible. Naturally, it is also important to learn more about the associated financial flows. Investigation of the offence will benefit from greater investment in financial investigations, the National Rapporteur said in the report “Trafficking in Human Beings: Visible and Invisible II”. Identifying the financial flows is an important step in efforts to confiscate criminal earnings. Up to now, confiscation orders have seldom been made in human trafficking cases. In a reaction to that report, the Minister of Security and Justice said that he would review how the situation could be improved. Tracing the financial flows associated with human trafficking can also yield important evidence of an offence and help to expose criminal networks, thus making investigations less reliant on the statements of victims. Furthermore, knowledge of the financial flows can also underpin claims for compensation by victims.