European Network Against Trafficking in Human Beings


Trafficking Human Beings

Trafficking in Europe

Trafficking in human beings is a global phenomenon and occurs in most precarious sectors with weak labour rights, such as the sex industry, building and agricultural sectors, but also in private households. Trafficked persons are exploited for their labour and experience a series of rights violations, ranging from restriction of movement and confiscation of pay, to violence and abuse. Although trafficking is widely recognised as a serious human rights violation, support for trafficked persons is still inadequate, only a small fraction of trafficked persons is identified, and an even smaller percentage decides to press charges. Trafficking is caused by a variety of factors (so-called root causes) that occur in all stages of the trafficking process: in countries of origin (poverty or unequal gender relations) and destination (demand for cheap labour or repressive migration policies) and during the migration process (lack of safe/ legal migration opportunities).

The stereotype of a person who ends up in a trafficking situation is that of a young and maybe naïve woman who is forced into prostitution. However, women trafficked into the sex industry have different backgrounds and personal stories. Moreover, trafficking does not only concern women and is not limited to the sex industry. Although there are no reliable figures on the number of people trafficked every year, contrary to the common portrayal of human trafficking as mainly occurring in the sex industry, it is possible that the majority of the total of trafficked persons world-wide is actually exploited in other industries. Industries known to use trafficked and forced labour are domestic work, sweatshops, construction work or agricultural labour. But people, adults as well as children, are also trafficked for illegal acts such as begging, pick pocketing, drugs trafficking and cybercrime.

Trafficking does not always involve the illegal crossing of borders. It can also occur within a country, i.e. without crossing any national borders. Moreover, in many cases trafficked persons enter a country legally, for example as tourists, spouses, students, domestic workers or au pairs. Sometimes they become ‘illegal' when they remove themselves from the power of their exploiters, e.g. in the case of workers who only receive a work (and therefore residency) permit for working with a particular employer in a particular industry.

Most mechanisms of support and assistance to identified trafficked persons are still tailored to women exploited in the sex industry. This is because until 2000, the internationally recognised definition of trafficking excluded forms of exploitation in other economic sectors, so that men and women exploited in those industries have only recently been internationally recognised as victims of human trafficking. In 2000, the UN Palermo Protocol broadened the definition of trafficking to include all forms of trafficking.

Despite this, the majority of trafficked persons whom La Strada has supported over the past ten years are still young women between the age of 18 and 30 who were trafficked into the sex industry. Almost all of them struggled with low-income jobs or unemployment and hoped to find better opportunities abroad. Some of them made their own decision to work in prostitution but were deceived about the conditions in which they would work. Others were deceived about the work they would have to do abroad. Some even did not want to migrate and were kidnapped. What they all share is the experience of deceit, violence, coercion and abuse and of being subjected to slavery-like conditions with little or no personal freedom.

In recent years, however, some changes have occurred in La Strada's services, as offices have started supporting people trafficked into different sectors. La Strada Ukraine, for example, assisted a number of women trafficked for forced labour as seamstresses, and in Moldova, a number of cases of men trafficked for construction and agricultural work came to light. La Strada Poland faced a number of cases of Moldovan women forced into begging in Poland. In the Netherlands, young women from Eastern Europe who come to work as au pairs and experience Dutch culture are exploited for all kinds of domestic labour and La Strada Netherlands identifies more trafficked men each year.

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