Human trafficking

Most victims of human trafficking who are exploited in Switzerland originally come from another country. Most of them start out with wanting to improve their own life and that of their family. They decide to migrate because they have been promised a job. Once they arrive, it turns out that it was a false promise or that they were deceived about the working conditions. They are forced to work under threats, violence or because of alleged debts and are exploited in this predicament.

Human trafficking in Switzerland occurs particularly in precarious work sectors, such as sex work, in private households, in agriculture, construction or the hotel and restaurant industry. It is very difficult for those affected to defend themselves and receive support because of the force and compulsion exercised by the perpetrators, but also because of their precarious legal situation. Only a few dare to testify against the perpetrators, which is why there are very few convictions in Switzerland.

Human trafficking is a complex problem. It is an extreme form of exploitation that must be analyzed and understood in the context of global poverty, restrictive migration regimes, economic crises and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.


What is the definition of human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a serious violation of human rights and a criminal offence.


According to the internationally accepted definition, trafficking in human beings has three characteristics:

  • Action = trafficking (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, reception of persons)
  • Use of illicit means (violence, deception, threats, exploitation of helplessness, coercion)
  • Purpose (sexual exploitation, exploitation of labor or removal of body organs).

This definition has been established in international agreements (Palermo Protocol / Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings).


Switzerland has signed these agreements and adopted this definition of human trafficking in national legislation (StGb ยง 182). The European Convention against Human Trafficking contains many other obligations Switzerland must comply with – particularly with regard to the protection and support of victims.


How many victims of human trafficking are there?

Figures on victims of human trafficking are difficult to determine precisely. Human trafficking takes place in secret. Therefore, only rough estimates of the extent of this human rights violation are available.


According to the International Labor Organization ILO, around 25 million people worldwide become victims of forced labor and human trafficking every year.


In 2019, the four NGOs of the Swiss Platform against Human Trafficking together advised more than 400 victims of human trafficking. Most of the people were exploited in the cantons of Zurich, Geneva, Vaud, Solothurn and Bern. Most of the people were from Nigeria, Thailand, Romania and Hungary.


In comparison, the number of convictions is low: in 2019 there were only 7 convictions for human trafficking in Switzerland.


How do I recognize a trafficked person?

People affected by human trafficking are rarely imprisoned. They usually come into contact people, who could identify them as victims of human trafficking: at the border, at the embassy, in hospitals, on the premises of social services, in neighborhoods, in various accommodation facilities, on the street, at information and registration desks, in the entertainment sector and at various workplaces.


The following points may be an indication that a person is a trafficked person:

  • The person tells about excessive debts that do not diminish in spite of earning, about jobs he or she no longer wants to perform, about deception, humiliation or blackmail against themselves or their children.
  • The person appears to be under duress (even if it is unclear where it comes from).
  • There are indications of physical violence, rape or deprivation of liberty.

The Federal Office of Police fedpol has compiled a detailed list of indicators for identifying victims of human trafficking.


Affected persons hardly ever describe themselves as victims of human trafficking and therefore do not contact the police or counseling centers. They are very distrustful of authorities, especially the police, as they often have an insecure residence status and have no knowledge of their rights. Often the perpetrators consciously fuel this fear by claiming that they have good relations with the police or by telling false facts about the legal situation (e.g. regarding sex work).


How can I help a person affected by human trafficking?

If you are in contact with a person who may be a victim of human trafficking, please note the following points:


As soon as there is a suspicion of human trafficking, it is essential to contact and involve experts such as one of the four specialized victim counseling centers. Human trafficking is very complex and not easy to detect. It requires time, trust and specialized knowledge.


Do not act over the head of the person concerned: investigations can be made anonymously, but the consent of the person concerned is required before the information can be passed on to specialized victim counseling centers.


Do not stereotype potential victims of this crime! Stereotypical images of how a victim looks or behaves may prevent us from recognizing the vulnerability of a person who is not seen as part of a special risk group.