Human trafficking occurs when people are deceived or coerced into work or services, which they are not free to leave. The purpose of human trafficking is always to exploit people.
Labour exploitation is not the same as human trafficking. It is one of the components of human trafficking and can lead to it.
Human trafficking is a violation of basic human rights. It often involves hazardous working conditions, intimidation, physical and psychological abuse. People who are trafficked live in deplorable conditions with limited or no freedom. In many cases their passports are taken away and they are bound by debt.
Labour exploitation and human trafficking take place in most business sectors as well as in the private homes of people. A significant number of severe cases are typically found in the agricultural sector, in construction and manufacturing and in care work as well as domestic work. Such cases can be found in all European countries.
Not coincidentally, these sectors are largely dependent on migrant workers, who are generally in a more vulnerable position. Migrants have less access to legal protection and also lack (local) support of friends and family.
There are many underlying causes of human trafficking and labour exploitation, many of them rooted in poverty and social inequality. An important driving force is the fact that many corporations, aiming to maximise their profit, put pressure on their suppliers to keep prices down. This leads to a demand for cheap and “flexible” labour, in turn leading to exploitation of workers and even human trafficking.
To attract businesses, governments tend to go along with deregulation of labour and turn a blind eye on enforcement of laws. Moreover, when coming in contact with people working under bad conditions, public authorities usually focus on their legal status, rather than their human rights.
Find out more about the causes of human trafficking