Wanted: effective approach to human trafficking for labor exploitation
Organizations that can play a role in combating trafficking for labor exploitation still remain unaware of their responsibilities. The organizations in question include local and city councils, the tax authorities and the labor Inspectorate. As a result, they fail to pick up on signals or share relevant information. This is the conclusion drawn by the lawyer Conny Rijken from Tilburg University following research conducted into labor exploitation in five European countries. Any real efforts to effectively deal with this form of trafficking are being thwarted by the low profile attributed to this form of trafficking and a lack of familiarity with criminal law and victim protection.
Labor exploitation is in fact very common and can often constitute a form of human trafficking. International agreements to combat the phenomenon were made under the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking; however the authorities are struggling to put these policies and procedures into practice at ground level. “One of the stumbling blocks is that although the police and public prosecution services, such as the labor inspectorate, can rely on the support of trade unions, local and city councils, Europol and Eurojust in tackling the problem, confusion reigns as to their role in the process," says Conny Rijken. "One example is the case concerning Josť J., the asparagus farmer from Someren. The labor inspectorate failed to hand over relevant information to the public prosecution service and the Social and Intelligence Investigation Service early enough. Another compounding issue is that victims of abuse are often regarded as illegal immigrants rather than as victims of a crime and are consequently expelled from the country, taking any evidence of abuse with them.”
Rijken led an international research project that studied the problem of human trafficking for labor exploitation and the methods for tackling it in five European countries: the Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Serbia and Spain. The study also showed that economic inequality and restricted immigration opportunities, especially for unskilled non-EU workers, create the perfect climate for illegal labor migration and leaves migrants vulnerable to labor exploitation. “These immigrants are often unfamiliar with the culture, language and politics of their new society and are therefore dependent on their employer for housing, banking affairs, etc. Something recently witnessed in the Netherlands with the Indonesian prawn crackers bakeries and Chinese restaurant workers."
Victims of abuse
What’s more, many are not aware that they are victims of abuse and continue to accept less than the minimum wage and no guarantee of social security in order to keep their jobs. Hence these cases are not reported. Victim support is generally geared towards female victims of sexual abuse, and not male victims of labor-trafficking. The research study uncovered a serious shortage, and in some cases a complete lack, of refuge centers for male victims in all the countries surveyed.
To prevent trafficking for labor exploitation and to improve the detection rate, Rijken believes that prosecution in such cases should depend less on the testimonies of migrants and more on other indicators, such as data from the tax authorities, local and city councils (with regards to housing), the labor inspectorate and the Chamber of Commerce. She also believes that migrant workers should be better informed of their legal status and the rules and mores of the society they are living in.
The international study into human trafficking for labor exploitation by Conny Rijken (ed.) (2011) 'Combating trafficking in human beings for labor exploitation' has been published by Wolf Legal Publishers.