For safety – end support for the ‘Nordic model’

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2022 Virtual National Women's Conference
14 October 2021

Conference notes that UNISON’s national women’s conference led the development of UNISON’s current policy on sex workers, which was agreed in 2010 when National Delegate Conference adopted a motion from women’s conference supporting the Nordic model, a legal model based on decriminalising the selling of sexual services while introducing a ‘sex buyers law’ criminalising those who purchase those services.

Conference notes, however, that in 2018 UNISON women’s conference rejected the motion “Nordic Model Now!” which called for women’s conference to affirm its policy of supporting the Nordic Model.

Conference recognises that the great majority of sex workers are women. It also recognises that some women sex workers identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender plus (LGBT+).

Conference notes that national LGBT+ conference has adopted motions at several conferences which:

a)Recognise that criminalisation of any kind, including of buyers, increases the risks for sex workers;

b)Oppose the introduction of a sex buyers law, because the criminalisation of buyers means sex workers having to take more risks with their own health and safety to protect buyers – their clients – from detection by the police;

c)Reflect the view that sex workers are workers, who should have the same rights and protections as workers in other industries;

d)Recognise that, as a trade union, we should not be calling for laws which put sex workers, including women sex workers, at greater risk.

Conference notes there is no legal model anywhere in the world that has been shown to increase, or decrease, the number of people who sell sex. The evidence is that all that laws can change is whether people, including women, do sex work in dangerous conditions or in safer conditions.

Conference further notes that legislation which criminalises the purchase of sex, known as ‘the Nordic Model’ (and sometimes called the ‘End Demand’ approach), is widely opposed by international bodies and by anti-trafficking, women’s rights, health, and human rights organisations, including:

1)Amnesty International, which in 2016 adopted its “Policy on state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of sex workers”, which includes advocating for the decriminalisation of all aspects of consensual adult sex work.

2)The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, which in 2011 published a report that explored the impacts of anti-trafficking initiatives that utilise an ‘end demand’ approach, including the criminalisation of clients, and states that such approaches cause serious harm to sex workers by putting their livelihoods at risk, increasing the stigma they face, and intensifying police power over them.

3)The World Health Organisation, which in 2014 published guidelines for helping to prevent the spread of HIV in the most-at-risk populations, including sex workers (the majority of who are women), that recommended that countries decriminalise sex work.

4)Other organisations such as the Royal College of Nursing, UNAIDS, Anti Slavery International, Freedom United, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, ILGA World, ILGA Europe, Transgender Europe, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Survivors UK, The Gemini Project, and sex workers organisations.

5)Trade unions including GMB, ASLEF, UCU, BFAWU (Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union) and the RMT.

Conference recognises that, as women trade unionists, we should not be calling for laws which put women sex workers at greater risk.

Conference therefore agrees that women’s conference should no longer support the introduction of a ‘sex buyers law’, and calls on the National Women’s Committee to:

A)Engage in a dialogue with the National LGBT+ Committee, other National self-organised groups, National Executive Council and other bodies within the union as appropriate, with a view to reviewing UNISON policy in this area

B)Report back to 2023 Women’s Conference.