USDOS – US Department of State (Autor)
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 while considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Finland remained on Tier 1. These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims; investigating more trafficking cases; and establishing anti-trafficking units in the police and prosecutor’s office. Additionally, the government developed guidelines and a checklist for identifying labor trafficking, established a working group focused on due diligence regulation for company supply chains and commissioned related training courses, and approved the hiring of 15 new labor inspectors. Although the government meets the minimum standards, courts convicted fewer traffickers and reports persisted that police penalized trafficking victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. Municipalities continued to lack the capabilities to address the needs of victims, and implementation of the national referral mechanism remained at a standstill.
Investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and labor trafficking cases using the trafficking statute, and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms. • Enforce the non-punishment provision and cease prosecuting victims for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. • Ensure all municipalities have policies and procedures consistent with national standards and allocate resources so that local service providers and municipal government officials are familiar with victims’ rights to assistance and know how to offer high-quality services. • Implement the national referral mechanism for identification and assistance with improved identification and referral guidelines, train front-line workers, particularly social workers at the municipal level, on its use, and allocate sufficient funding for implementation. • Ensure all victims have full access to services, such as residence permit applications, shelters, and health and social services, regardless of whether and under which statutes a suspected trafficker is prosecuted. • Develop clear guidance for national victim assistance system personnel on treating victims who do not choose to involve the police. • Train judges, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors on applying the trafficking law. • Develop and implement a centralized database on trafficking that allows for the disaggregation of data, including the demographics of victims and type of exploitation. • Publish, resource, and implement a national action plan for 2021. • Conduct public awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable populations.
The government increased 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 offenses 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 2020, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigated 87 cases, an increase from 81 cases in 2019. Authorities prosecuted 14 cases (15 cases in 2019). Finnish courts convicted one trafficker (two in 2019) and issued a sentence of three years and two months’ imprisonment. The NBI cooperated with foreign governments on transnational investigations, which resulted in prosecutions. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.
During the reporting period, the government established a 20-person anti-trafficking task force, comprising members from the Helsinki police and the NBI, to investigate major trafficking cases. In addition, the prosecutor’s office of Southern Finland established a parallel anti-trafficking unit composed of 10 specialized prosecutors and developed a plan to create a detailed database for all trafficking-related cases. Southern Finland, which included Helsinki, remained the most populous district in the country and the primary location for trafficking crimes. As in previous years, experts raised concerns that police prioritized other types of conventional cases and crimes and prosecutors were often unwilling to pursue trafficking charges due to the high legal standard for trafficking-related convictions. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, district courts closed, which delayed judicial processing and compounded the perennial problem of lengthy investigations and prosecutions, possibly leading to law enforcement prosecuting trafficking cases under less serious offenses. The government supported educational efforts during the reporting period by providing annual training for prosecutors, police, and immigration officers.
The government maintained protection efforts. Multiple actors within the government and civil society were empowered to identify and refer trafficking victims. Although police and immigration officials used written guidelines for identification and referral, the national anti-trafficking coordinator acknowledged authorities required more training on these guidelines. As a result, the government created a national referral mechanism for victim identification and assistance but did not implement it due to the pending completion of the national action plan. The victim assistance system was the main channel for identifying victims via referrals, and through it, the government provided both direct care and funding for third-party care. The government received 394 potential trafficking victim referrals, and the assistance system admitted 247 potential trafficking victims (10 children), a notable increase from 303 and 229 (14 children), respectively, in 2019. The assistance system reported 25 percent of new recipients were sex trafficking victims, 49 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining percentage were victims of forced marriage or other crimes classified as trafficking under Finnish law. Authorities noted 120 of the new recipients (49 percent) became trafficking victims in Finland rather than abroad, a sharp increase from 70 in 2019 and the most recorded since 2015. Of the 120, authorities registered 11 as sex trafficking victims, the same number as in 2019. All victims accepted into the assistance system consented to cooperate with police in the prosecution of their traffickers; however, in cases where victimization occurred outside of Finland and the conditions of the relevant jurisdiction made law enforcement cooperation unlikely, police did not open a criminal investigation. Finnish law required police to pursue cases specifically as trafficking crimes in order for victims to receive services through the assistance system. The government did not provide guidance to assistance system personnel regarding referrals of victims who were exploited in trafficking domestically and did not wish to contact the police. Furthermore, according to the national rapporteur, the placement of the assistance system within immigration services misrepresented trafficking as a crime requiring migration and reduced the focus on trafficking committed within Finland. The government continued to consider the transfer of the victim assistance system to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to address this concern and to weaken the link between the provision of assistance to victims and their participation in the justice process, which acted as an obstacle to victims’ willingness to come forward. Finnish police were not prohibited from prosecuting victims who, as a result of being trafficked, committed acts that violate national law. Observers continued to point out that the non-punishment provision existed in theory, but in practice, the police treated users of illegal drugs, potential victims who had been forced into criminality, and foreigners in the commercial sex industry as perpetrators of crimes.
Once victims were referred to the assistance system, consultants evaluated the case and decided on the victim’s course of care, which could include transportation to a safe house; psychological, medical, and legal assistance; or shelter. There was one government-funded shelter specifically for trafficking victims, though it accepted only women and their children—there were no shelters dedicated to male victims. Care providers sheltered most trafficking victims in private accommodations. Child services assigned unaccompanied child victims a guardian to serve as a legal representative. Authorities placed Finnish children who could not return to their families in foster care, while authorities placed unaccompanied migrant children in a migrant reception center specifically for children. Officials noted some municipalities lacked the knowledge and resources to provide assistance to trafficking victims. The Parliamentary Ombudsman reprimanded the City of Helsinki for failing to provide adequate support to victims and indicated that social workers employed by the city often did not know what benefits were available to victims and that benefits were in some cases denied even when the assistance system told the municipality what the victim was entitled to and that the state would reimburse the costs. Helsinki’s head of adult social work noted the legislation concerning benefits for victims was unclear and originally intended to assist undocumented victims and not legal residents of Finland. Observers noted municipalities experience difficulties with victim service provision because they functioned under the general framework of social welfare and were not sufficiently equipped with the resources to deal with crime-related issues such as trafficking or victims of trafficking. In 2020, the government spent €1.1 million ($1.3 million) on trafficking victim assistance and protection, approximately the same as in 2019 and 2018. In addition, the government allocated €200,000 ($245,400) for services to multiple organizations, compared with €292,520 ($358,900) in 2019.
Finnish Immigration Services 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 a six-month reflection period during which they could receive care and assistance while considering whether to assist law enforcement, and the law allowed legal residents a recovery period of up to three months. According to the assistance system, 24 victims took advantage of the reflection period in 2020 (23 in 2019). Victims could receive renewable temporary residence permits, which were valid for six to 12 months and allowed victims to seek employment. Authorities provided temporary residence permits to seven victims and renewed 11 permits, compared with 15 and three, respectively, in 2019. During the reporting period, the government in partnership with NGOs and other organizations developed a pilot project to provide training and full-time jobs to victims residing in Finland; the project was not yet operational.
The government increased prevention activities. The national anti-trafficking coordinator reported a new national action plan was pending approval and publication; the government’s previous action plan expired in 2017. The government continued to implement and fund anti-trafficking initiatives. However, the government did not conduct or fund any domestic anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. Globally, the government funded a wide range of anti-trafficking programs, including training in Laos and a prevention project in Burundi, investing nearly €335,000 ($411,000) in 2020. As a result of a multi-year international project profiling trafficking in regional supply chains, the government developed guidelines and a checklist for law enforcement and labor inspectors to better identify and counter labor trafficking. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment published a judicial analysis outlining due diligence obligations that could be imposed on companies. The report explored possible regulatory options, their scope of application, supervision, and sanctions under corporate social responsibility legislation. The ministry established a working group supporting the preparation of mandatory due diligence regulation and commissioned two training courses for companies. Following an incident involving seasonal berry pickers, the ministry began an investigation into the exploitation of migrant workers and initiated changes to strengthen the regulation of seasonal workers, including new protections for laborers and legal obligations for those contracting their services, such as banning the use of recruitment fees and requiring employers to accept responsibility for the condition and treatment of the laborers. The government approved hiring 15 new labor inspectors to monitor forced labor. In 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency conducted approximately 800 inspections related to the use of foreign labor and 408 related to the proper payment of salaries to foreign workers. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The national assistance system maintained a hotline and website in multiple languages exclusively for trafficking victims and reported assisting approximately 25 potential victims.
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. Traffickers operate from abroad using threats of violence, debt leverage, and other forms of coercion. Authorities express concern about Romanian criminal organizations exploiting individuals from their home countries in Finland. Experts note most labor trafficking involves small-scale operations in businesses, rather than larger criminal syndicates. Victims primarily originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. 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 construction, restaurant, agriculture, and transport industries and as cleaners, gardeners, and domestic workers. Staff at the Ombudsman for Nondiscrimination report traffickers force victims to pay for jobs and unpaid internships, particularly in the construction industry, before transporting them to Finland. Authorities report the recruitment and exploitation of foreign workers from Nepal in the restaurant sector. Seasonal berry pickers continue to be especially vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.