The Commission presented a new Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025), focusing on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. Between 2017 and 2018, there were more than 14,000 registered victims within the European Union. Globally, traffickers make estimated profits of €29.4 billion in a single year. With demand for exploitation expected to continue, traffickers moving their acts online and the pandemic likely to create the conditions for increased exploitation, today's strategy sets out the measures that will allow the EU and its Member States to continue strengthening their response.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: ”Fighting trafficking in human beings is part of our work towards building a Europe that protects. Traffickers prey on people's vulnerabilities. With today's Strategy, we are taking a three-pronged approach, using legislation, policy and operational support and funding in tandem to reduce demand, break criminal business, and empower victims of this abominable crime.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: "Trafficking in human beings is a crime that should have no place in our societies. Yet, criminals continue to traffic victims, mainly women and children, and mostly for sexual exploitation. We owe the victims protection, and we need to bring to justice the perpetrators who treat human beings as a commodity. We will look at the rules in place to check if they are still fit for purpose and we will assess the possibility of criminalising the use of exploited services from trafficking victims”.
The strategy builds on the EU's comprehensive legal and policy framework in place to address trafficking in human beings, rooted in the Anti-trafficking Directive. The Commission will continue to support Member States in the implementation of the Directive and, if necessary, will propose revisions to make sure it is fit for purpose. The EU anti-trafficking coordinator will continue to play a key role in the implementation of this strategy.
In addition, the Strategy focuses on:
Reducing demand that fosters trafficking: The Commission will assess the possibility of establishing minimum EU rules criminalising the use of exploited services of trafficking victims and will organise - together with national authorities and civil society organisations - a prevention campaign targeting high-risk sectors. The Commission will also consider strengthening Employers' Sanctions Directive and will propose legislation on corporate governance to clarify the responsibilities of companies and will provide guidance on due diligence to help prevent forced labour.
Breaking the business model of traffickers, online and offline: The Commission will conduct a dialogue with internet and technology companies to reduce the use of online platforms for the recruitment and exploitation of victims. The Commission will encourage systematic training of law enforcement and judicial practitioners on detecting and addressing trafficking in human beings.
Protecting, supporting and empowering the victims with a specific focus on women and children: The Strategy seeks to improve the early identification of victims and their referral for further assistance and protection, strengthen victim empowerment programmes and facilitate re-integration. The Commission will also fund gender-specific and child-sensitive training to help police, social workers, border guards or healthcare staff detect victims.
Promoting international cooperation: With half of the victims identified in the EU being non-EU citizens, cooperation with international partners is key to address trafficking. The EU will use a range of foreign policy instruments and operational cooperation to help combat trafficking in countries of origin and transit including through dedicated human rights and security dialogues, enhanced cooperation with the Council of Europe and regular and targeted communication, action and exchange of information with EU delegations in partner countries. The upcoming Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling will also help disrupt traffickers' business in moving victims for exploitation to Europe.
Trafficking in human beings remains a serious threat in the EU despite progress achieved in the past years. Victims are mainly women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. The third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings, published in October 2020, provides a factual overview on the progress made, presents patterns and challenges and key issues in addressing trafficking in human beings in the EU.
As trafficking in human beings is often perpetuated by organised crime groups, the Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings is closely linked to the EU Strategy to Tackle Organised Crime also presented. Protecting society from organised crime, including tackling trafficking in human beings, is a priority under the EU Security Union Strategy.
The new Pact on Migration and Asylum also highlighted the importance of the early identification of potential non-EU victims of trafficking in human beings.