Conference marking the 10th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

Strasbourg , 

As delivered

I am delighted to welcome everyone on this very special anniversary – marking 10 years since we launched our Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

I would like to make three points.

1. First, I want to praise the efforts and progress made in the last ten years. Few crimes are as degrading and dehumanising as trafficking – better known as modern-day slavery. This is a multi-billion euro industry, destroying the lives of millions of vulnerable women, men and children. It is an affront to our values; it hurts our economies; and it fuels xenophobia and intolerance: when nationals see foreign men and women working, for example, as sex workers, they don’t see the coercion or the abuse. They just see foreigners breaking their laws. So I want to pay tribute to the original drafters, both in the member states and the Secretariat – many of whom are here today.

They produced something ground-breaking.

Ground-breaking because it was the first international legal instrument to put victims at the centre of the fight against human trafficking. It defined this crime as a violation of human rights and took us beyond prosecuting perpetrators, so that states are also obliged to uphold victims’ rights. That includes the right to be identified and assisted, to be protected from further abuse, to have their dignity restored and to receive compensation.

Ground-breaking because it covers all forms of trafficking – national and transnational, related to organised crime and not. It covers all victims: women, men and children, whatever the form of their exploitation. Ground-breaking because it has become one of the most successful Conventions in the CoE’s history. Estonia’s ratification in February of this year took the total number up to 43, which also includes Belarus.

I would also like to pay tribute to the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) – who take these laudable aims and help make them a reality on the ground. GRETA’s energy is astonishing. They remain the world’s only independent panel of experts on trafficking in human beings. Over the last five years they have evaluated the anti-trafficking legislation, policy and practice of 39 countries, publishing detailed, country-by-country reports setting out what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be done.

Thanks to these efforts, the commitment of member states – and, I should say, the work of our partners, including the UN, EU and OSCE – over the last decade many positive steps have been taken: from Portugal and Austria setting up new shelters and support structures for male victims to the Republic of Moldova introducing new guidelines to empower state authorities to identify victims and, crucially, potential victims too, to here in France, where in January 2013 the Government set up their Inter-ministerial task force on trafficking, which has produced the country’s first, dedicated action plan on this problem. These and other successes should make everyone here feel proud.

2. My second point, however, is that this pride for the past must now be matched by resolve for the future. Trafficking – like any lucrative, organised crime – is extremely resilient. It evolves. And so must our approach.

The face of modern trafficking is changing. We know for example that – while sexual exploitation continues to be a big problem – forced labour is on the rise. Since we launched the Convention the number of victims is believed to have risen from 12m to 21m – and these estimates are only ever the tip of the iceberg. We see it across a range of sectors, not least agriculture, construction, catering, textiles and domestic service. In our globalised economy, long and complicated supply chains make it extremely difficult for companies to know what is going on and for their governing bodies to be held to account. Much more needs to be done.

States need to step up efforts to reduce demand and to make sure they have robust regulation guaranteeing decent labour standards. We also need to see better enforcement of corporate liability, ensuring that abuses are punished and remedied. Because governments can’t do this alone, we also need business to play a much bigger role. Some do this very well. The CNN Freedom Project, for example – which you’ll hear about later – is an excellent example of engaging with businesses to shine a light on hidden trafficking.

But overall the involvement of business has been limited – and this is where we need the biggest change. Specifically, it’s vital that companies are held to account for monitoring their supply chains. We also know that child trafficking is getting worse. And not just for sexual exploitation, but also for begging, criminality, forced marriage, domestic servitude and to put children to work.

We need to put a new emphasis on identifying target children – before it’s too late. Professionals working with children, in particular, should have specialist training to spot and stop exploitation and abuse.

I urge all states to draw on the work being done in the CoE to help you get to grips with this problem. That will include the new Strategy for the rights of the child, which is currently being developed. And of course you already have the CoE Guidelines on Child-Friendly Justice.

3. Finally – my third point – we need to pull together. This is, by definition, a cross border problem which requires an international response. As we renew our efforts, every state must now decide: is it part of the fight against trafficking or not?

I can therefore confirm that I have today written to the four member states that have not yet signed and ratified the Convention, the Czech Republic, Lichtenstein, Monaco, the Russian Federation. And also to Turkey, who has signed but not yet ratified.

I have urged each of them to make progress. These criminals look for any loophole to exploit and it is time to close the gaps. It is within the gift of these last remaining member states to ensure that Europe speaks with one voice and sends a clear message.

Let us show all those who trade in human beings as if they are nothing more than goods to be used and destroyed: we will work together to find you, to stop you and to bring you to justice. You will have nowhere left to hide.