Public procurement has a key role in preventing human trafficking
Trafficking in persons can hide behind the production of goods and services purchased by governments, international organizations, private companies and other entities, through their regular procurement actions.
Something as seemingly innocuous as the purchase of, for example, office equipment and/or the procurement of certain services may be directly or indirectly fuelling human trafficking—an issue that until now had largely gone unaddressed.
Public procurement, however, can also play a role in preventing and combating this crime, as stakeholders attending a high-level virtual event organized by the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) to deliberate on the matter recently heard.
“The enormous purchasing power of States and international organizations represents an opportunity and obligation to ensure procurement and global supply chains are better regulated to prevent human trafficking,” said Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, at the event.
“Our demand for goods and services cannot be allowed, knowingly or unknowingly, to foster exploitation,” Ms Waly said, adding that public procurement should be part of the solution to human trafficking, not the problem.
Speaking at the same event, Ms. Helga Maria Schmid, the Secretary General of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), welcomed the growing recognition of public procurement as an essential part of counter-trafficking response. Ms. Schmid also emphasized the role played by international organizations and States in protecting supply chains and promoting due diligence across public sector entities in order to prevent the purchase and use of goods and services produced by victims of trafficking.
“Strengthening good governance practices helps limit the purchase of these goods and enables States to protect human rights and promote fairer economic systems,” noted Ms. Schmid.
States play a significant role in their capacities as purchasers, regulators and enforcers, according to Ambassador José Alfonso Blanco Conde, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations in New York, and co-facilitator of the negotiations for a Political Declaration on the third appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which was adopted in 2010 through a General Assembly resolution.
The global appraisal provides an opportunity for the international community to put more attention on this topic and adopt concrete measures to eradicate human trafficking in supply chains.
However, States on their own cannot fully address human trafficking in global supply chains. Collaboration with the private sector is needed to comprehensively tackle this problem.
“The private sector represents a key ally in addressing human trafficking,” said Ms. Waly, adding that “we need to work with businesses and corporations to take preventive and corrective action throughout global supply chains”.
This was echoed by Ambassador Enrique Austria Manalo, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations in New York, and Co-Facilitator of the General Assembly-led appraisal of the GPA, who called on all stakeholders, both public and private, to “adopt ethical and transparent practices in their procurement and supply chains, and ensure the accountability of all actors, including intermediaries, who purchase or benefit from the labour of trafficking victims.”
Ms. Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of trafficking and Chairperson of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC), made a passionate plea for strong cooperation to prevent and combat human trafficking. “Without working closely to identify the root cause and the pattern of grooming and recruitment, we continue to fail in protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk of trafficking,” said Ms. Woworuntu.
Likewise, Ms. Shoko Shimozawa, representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), weighed in calling for cohesiveness in the fight against trafficking in persons. UNHCR is currently co-chairing ICAT together with UNODC.
“Combating trafficking in persons, including in the global supply chains, is a joint responsibility, which we can only fulfil if we demonstrate cohesiveness and solidarity by working together towards pragmatic and yet very much needed measures,” Ms. Shimozawa said.
Also speaking during the virtual event, the co-Chair of the UN Procurement Network’s Task Force for the Development of a Joint Approach in Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor in Supply Chains, Mr. Vanja Ostojic, presented on the Task Force’s efforts to clean UN procurement and supply chains of human trafficking, noting that “UN agencies have considerable power to influence the market due to the scale of their procurement activities”.
The High-Level Event further received statements from Australia, Belarus, Canada, Tanzania, and United States of America, as well as from the European Commission and the Sovereign Order of Malta, who all buttressed the important role of public procurement in preventing human trafficking.
The event was part of ICAT’s broader efforts to raise the profile of the role of public procurement in global counter-trafficking conversations.
These also include the release of an Issue Brief on the role of public procurement in preventing human trafficking, which seeks to provide some practical guidance to policy-makers, legislators and other stakeholders on this issue. The Issue Brief, developed jointly by the 30 ICAT members, was launched during the virtual event.
Presenting the brief, Mr. Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings highlighted how this tool timely contributes to the ongoing anti-trafficking conversations on the matter, providing simplified information on “the why, the what, and the how, in a clear and concise manner”, as well as a series of concrete recommendations and other relevant materials to dig deeper on the role of public procurement in preventing human trafficking.
The event was held on 27 September 2021 in the margins of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Email the ICAT Secretariat at email@example.com if you wish to receive the recordings.
ICAT was established in 2007, pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 61/180, as a policy forum to enhance cooperation and coordination among UN agencies and other relevant international organizations to facilitate a holistic and comprehensive approach to the scourge of trafficking in persons. Its members include 30 UN entities and other international and regional organizations.
UNODC and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are the current co-Chairs of ICAT for 2021.
ICAT has published extensively on trafficking in persons. Its wealth of information can be accessed on the website here.
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