A group of sex workers’ rights activists working in sex work projects around the world started networking in 1990 at the 2nd International Conference for NGOs working on AIDS in Paris. Two years later, NSWP was formally launched as an alliance of sex workers’ rights activists and sex work projects during the 1992 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.

Over the years, NSWP has conducted activities in partnership with other organisations, and has influenced policy and built leadership among sex workers and facilitated the development of regional and national networks of sex workers and sex work projects. NSWP questioned the stigma of sex work and advocated for the greater recognition of sex workers as rights bearers, with the capacity to make a difference.

Significantly, NSWP participation in the global response to HIV/AIDS was largely responsible for the terms 'sex worker' and ‘sex work’ replacing 'prostitute' and ‘prostitution’. More than mere political correctness, this new language moved global understandings of sex work toward a labour framework which provides solutions to many of the problems faced by sex workers.

As a result of NSWP advocacy, female, male and transgender sex workers have presented the case for protection of their human rights at international forums such as international and regional conferences on AIDS, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995, UNGASS, the UNAIDS Programme Co-ordinating Board and the Global Fund consultations.

NSWP successfully lobbied for wording of the UN convention against trafficking in persons (the Palermo Protocol) to ensure that trafficking is defined as including force or coercion.

NSWP, along with its regional networks, was also successful in urging UNAIDS to reconsider its 2007 policy guidelines on HIV and sex work.

Following an organisational review completed in 2007, which recommended NSWP formalise its membership structure, NSWP became a network of sex worker-led organisations and networks (rather than individuals) with a regional governance structure and a Global Secretariat. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) registered as a not-for-profit private company limited by guarantee, with its registered office in Scotland, UK in October 2008.