This week we welcome back Rebecca Surtees. Rebecca is Senior Researcher at NEXUS Institute, an international human rights research and policy center in Washington, DC. NEXUS Institute is dedicated to combating human trafficking as well as other human rights abuses. This post is written in conjunction with a newly released report on developing common ethical principles within anti-trafficking re/integration.
In the Balkan region, human trafficking continues to be a pressing issue. One central aspect of anti-trafficking work is re/integration; the process of recovery and economic and social inclusion following a trafficking experience. Re/integration services are often key to trafficked persons’ ability to recover and move on with their lives. And yet few organisations and programmes have developed ethical principles according to which their re/integration work is implemented, monitored and evaluated.
In response to this gap, a set of ethical principles for re/integration programmes and policies have been developed in the Balkan region. These principles – a new and significant development in re/integration work – were developed by NEXUS Institute in collaboration with eleven re/integration NGOs supported under the Trafficking Victims Re/Integration Programme (TVRP), funded by the King Baudouin Foundation and GIZ. These principles, grounded in direct re/integration work and developed collaboratively from the bottom-up, aim to hold re/integration practitioners and policy makers to a higher standard and to be accountable in their work. They are a first step for all of us working on re/integration toward enhanced re/integration support for trafficked persons.
Ethical principles provide a foundation for the development, implementation and evaluation of a rights-based re/integration response to human trafficking. Principles underpinning re/integration work relate to attitudes, rights and duties about human welfare – for example: “respect for the autonomy of service users” or the “promotion of human welfare”.
Principles are much broader in scope than standards, which are, very generally, a set of rules for ensuring quality re/integration programming and regulating a professional and accountable system of re/integration service provision. Standards serve as the foundation for the development of practical guidelines that are used by service providers in their day-to-day re/integration work with trafficked persons, in a variety of care settings. Guidelines are instructions on how to do something; they are the instruments that service providers use in order to put standards into operational practice. Standards and guidelines exist in some places and not in others. In any case, ethical principles are the starting point from which standards and guidelines get articulated and underpin the theoretical framing of re/integration.
Professional ethics concern matters of right and wrong conduct, good and bad qualities of character and the professional responsibilities attached to relationships in a work context.
Ethical principles are intended for use by any professional working in the field of anti-trafficking re/integration, whether for GOs, NGOs or IOs, from a range of different fields including social work, psychology, medicine, law enforcement, law and so on. Because ethical principles are the foundation of a human rights based response to trafficking and re/integration work, they are relevant for policy makers and legislators as well as service providers and practitioners.
Some of these ethical principles are mandated by international and national legislation, making their safeguarding not only an issue of ethics but also a legal requirement. For example, there are a range of legal issues associated with the collection, transfer and sharing of sensitive data (sometimes the subject of legislation on data protection), such as data collected in the context of re/integration case management. In some cases, re/integration programmes and activities may be governed by multiple legal and ethical codes – for example, the country of the organisation managing the programme, the country where the programme is being implemented (if different from the former) and/or the country funding the programme – making implementation challenging.
Twelve ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons
Principle #1. ‘Do no harm’.
Re/integration programmes and policies should “do no harm” to trafficked persons.
Principle #2. Informed consent.
Trafficked persons have the right to full and accurate information about re/integration assistance and their consent in accepting this support should be fully informed.
Principle #3. Confidentiality.
Trafficked persons’ confidentiality must be strictly guarded in the context of re/integration work.
Principle #4. Anonymity.
Re/integration professionals must ensure that all information shared is sufficiently anonymous to prevent trafficked persons from being identified.
Principle #5. Privacy.
Trafficked persons have the right to privacy, to be free of unwanted or unsanctioned intrusion at all stages of their re/integration.
Principle #6. Non-discrimination.
Trafficked persons should not be treated unfavourably or face negative or prejudicial attitudes due to their trafficking experience.
Principle #7. Safety and security.
Trafficked persons’ safety and security is paramount and must be assessed (and responded to) throughout the re/integration process.
Principle #8. Sensitivity.
Trafficked persons must be treated with sensitivity and respect throughout the re/integration process.
Principle #9. Empowerment.
Trafficked persons should be equipped with the skills, ability and confidence to recover and lead an autonomous life. Empowerment should be fostered throughout the re/integration process.
Principle #10. Beneficiary participation.
Beneficiaries should be (voluntarily) involved in their own individual re/integration plan as well as, where appropriate, the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the re/integration services, programmes and policies.
Principle #11. Data protection.
Data collected about trafficked persons in the context of re/integration must be strictly protected in adherence with national and international legal standards.
Principle #12. Child protection and the “best interests of the child”.
Re/integration programmes and policies should ensure that trafficked children are protected and their best interests are the primary consideration.
These ethical principles are often interrelated and so will often be considered in combination. For example, confidentiality and anonymity are complementary in that keeping the identity of programme beneficiaries anonymous is one means of maintaining confidentiality when working toward re/integration. Similarly, protecting confidentiality is essential to ensure both the safety of victims and also data protection. Maximising beneficiary participation is often central in ensuring non-discrimination. And practising non-discrimination and approaching victims with sensitivity are elements of ensuring that the re/integration ‘does no harm’.
The real life impact of ethical principles on the re/integration of trafficked persons in the Balkans
Supporting beneficiary participation and empowerment
One re/integration organisation spends a great deal of time resolving administrative issues with beneficiaries – e.g. civil registration, obtaining new documents and so on. Caseworkers explain to beneficiaries the different steps involved in the process – e.g. what office to contact, how to get there, how to fill in forms and how to submit documents. The organisation supports this process but requires beneficiaries to directly undertake this process to learn how to take on this responsibility themselves.
Gaining informed consent
“Fadila” was offered to stay in a shelter because she faced conflict in her family and discrimination from family members. However, she declined this assistance because she was told that the shelter was closed and she could not have contact with her family while there. The state social worker, the police officer and the social worker from the re/integration programme spent time with her and her family to explain the programme, including that it was voluntary and she could leave at any time. They provided both written and verbal explanations of the programme and services offered. Eventually she agreed to enter the programme.
Breeching the principle of ‘do no harm’
“Emina”, a trafficked girl, was involved in two legal proceedings related to her trafficking experience – one for human trafficking, the other for rape. Staff from the Centre for Social Work arranged for Emina to provide testimony in both cases on the same day to save time and reduce travel costs. Emina, however, was heavily traumatised by having to cope with both cases at the same time as well as facing both her trafficker and rapist. Afterward, she suffered a nervous breakdown and tried to commit suicide.
Breeching confidentiality, anonymity, privacy, child protection and data protection
One organisation working on re/integration faced a situation in which it was legally obliged by the state social services to share case files of their child beneficiaries. However, the staff subsequently learned that these case files had not been securely and confidentially stored but rather had been left in boxes in the corridors of social services’ offices, accessible to anyone who wished to look at them.
Breeching sensitivity, privacy and confidentiality
“Marija” was a trafficking victim who approached the national employment agency in her hometown in an effort to find a job as part of her re/integration. A clerk at the admissions desk recognised her and began asking her questions about her life. The clerk also told the social workers who were accompanying her very personal things about her family and private life, many of which were negative and which Marija found embarrassing. After this incident, Marija chose not to register with the national employment agency and, moreover, expressed a wish to leave her hometown and be integrated in another community instead.
While ethical principles have often been implicit in the work of re/integration organisations, there is great value in identifying and explicitly articulating them. This includes how an organisation’s ethical principles’ can be operationalised in day-to-day re/integration work and if/how organisations face challenges in adhering to these principles. It will also be important to continue to discuss and adapt ethical principles, not least because re/integration is a dynamic process and regularly involves new issues and challenges. To ensure successful, sustainable and ethical re/integration programming and policies, new ethical principles (or the further articulation of these existing principles) are likely to be needed as well as the tools for implementation and monitoring of those principles.