Finland's National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking says the issue 'should be more of a priority' after the country was criticised in a report published by US authorities.
The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report found that fewer cases of human trafficking are being taken to Finnish courts than in previous years, leading to fewer convictions of traffickers, and blamed a lack of 'specialised government personnel' for the drop.
Finland’s Immigration Service (Migri) reported a record number of trafficking victims in 2019, and a separate report found that the number of victims in Finland had tripled over the course of three years.
The complexity of Finland’s legislation on human trafficking makes it difficult to secure convictions in court, according to Nina Keskinen, a Senior Specialised Prosecutor at the National Prosecution Authority.
In Finland human trafficking for sexual exploitation is often prosecuted under the country’s laws on pimping.
"The legislation is much simpler with regard to pimping," Keskinen tells Yle News. "It’s easier to investigate, it’s easier to prosecute and it’s easier to convict. The legislation on the trafficking of human beings is quite complex, by comparison, and many people don’t even understand some of the terms."
Keskinen believes these issues are further complicated by a lack of dedicated expertise among Finland’s police, prosecutors and judiciary in the area of human trafficking.
"I want Finland to have specialised police, prosecutors and judges so when we have the cases we would know how to investigate, prosecute and convict them,” Keskinen says. “But I think all that begins with a special police unit."
Resources "always an issue"
The report also found some municipalities in Finland lacked the "knowledge and resources" required to help victims of human trafficking, and cited one case in which a municipality paid for a victim to be sent to Sweden to receive assistance there instead.
This was a direct consequence of Finland needing "policies and procedures consistent with national standards", the report outlined, and strongly recommended that Finnish authorities devote more resources to tackling human trafficking.
The question of resources is "always an issue", says Anni Valovirta, a senior officer at the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman and Finland’s National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, but Finland will reap the benefits of allocating more towards the prosecution of traffickers.
"Human trafficking is a serious crime, a serious violation of a person’s human rights," Valovirta tells Yle News. "So it should be more of a priority, and more resources should be allocated to investigate these cases. And of course when we take action against traffickers, it sends a message that there are real consequences for these actions."
Valovirta adds she agrees with the report that municipalities play a frontline role in the fight against human trafficking, and says she is "hopeful" a new national action plan, currently being drawn up by a working group on behalf of the government, will help municipalities in this area.
"The National Rapporteur's hope is that the plan is going to be ambitious, and that we will have the resources in Finland to implement the plan to ensure that they meet the needs of victims," she says.
The working group developing Finland’s National Action Plan on Human Trafficking was created by the Ministry of Justice and is expected to publish its report in January 2021.
Better education and training
The US State Department’s annual report specifically identified the construction, restaurant, agriculture, and transport industries, and people who work as cleaners, gardeners, and domestic workers as vulnerable to human trafficking in Finland. They are all areas which attract a higher proportion of immigrant workers, but enforcement is tricky.
Despite the union’s representatives carrying out checks on work sites in conjunction with the Labour Inspectorate, victims of human trafficking are usually hidden away, or voluntarily hide themselves away, according to Nina Kreutzman, Adviser in International Affairs at the Finnish Construction Trade Union.
"The problem is often very difficult to tackle because these people are almost invisible. They are usually not actively looking for help, and might even be afraid of the consequences of asking for help," Kreutzman tells Yle News, a sentiment echoed by the report’s finding that traffickers use "threats of violence, debt leverage, and other forms of coercion" to ensure victims’ silence.
Kreutzman believes one area where there is room for improvement is in the training of authorities, such as the police and labour inspectors, so that they can better identify the signs of human trafficking.
"There needs to be better education in this area," Kreutzman says. "We need to learn more so that we can better recognise the signs that someone is a victim of human trafficking. In the union for example, we can see if full wages are not being paid or overtime is not being paid, and this could be a sign of more severe problems."