The EU Legal and Policy Response on Trafficking in Human Beings
Paper by Myria Vassiliadou
Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery
Workshop 2-3 November 2013
Pontifical Academies of Sciences, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations
It is a real honour to be here and on behalf of the European Commission, and I would like to extend my thanks to the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences. I think this event creates a very important momentum and I am grateful to the Holy Father for initiating this discussion on the political agenda, I think this will make a lot of difference.
What I will do today – we have a lot of distinguished academics from across the world, I will refrain from an academic analysis – is I will present to you in my capacity as the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, the EU legal and policy framework on trafficking in human beings and then what I will try to do is highlight some key areas of concern and, indeed, heated debate at times, and explain our priorities and how we will work in the future.
Let me start by saying that language matters a great deal so what we are doing in the EU is we stopped, we refrained from talking about fighting human trafficking, we refrained from using a very militant language and we use a language that is more multidisciplinary, more ecological, to borrow from my colleagues on the right, more integrated and more comprehensive. So we addressed trafficking in human beings as a priority and this is a priority for the EU and its member States, its 28 members States, including in our external policy.
Addressing trafficking is anchored in primary EU law, in the treaty of the functioning of the European Union and, of course, in our larger policy framework. Trafficking in human beings, and I will say something that not everybody necessarily agrees with, is specifically mentioned in Article 5 on the prohibition of slavery and forced labour of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. So, I think this is important because when we talk about slavery, slavery is a form of trafficking in human beings and not the other way around.
Within the EU, people are predominantly trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation but increasingly we also witness more cases of trafficking for the removal of organs, forced begging, criminal activities – this is especially for children – benefit fraud, illegal adoptions. Trafficking in the EU used to be seen as a criminal phenomenon, coming predominantly from third countries. I will say that this is not the case anymore. Most of the cases within the EU are cases of internal trafficking, that is, EU citizens being trafficked in the EU. I will come back to that.
So, what is the situation in the EU? As I said before, we are very wary of estimates, different types of estimates and different types of definitions. What we have done at the EU level for the first time this year, we have collected statistical information that is very concrete. It is based on identified and presumed victims of human trafficking according to the authorities, according to the National Statistical Offices. So, we know that within the EU, 23,600 people were identified for the years 2008 to 2010, and also we know that this is the tip of the iceberg, of course. We also know that there are signs of organised crime gangs increasing their trafficking activities in the EU in parallel with the worsening economic crisis. And Europol reports an increasing demand. There are worrying trends in the EU based on this concrete data, and what we see, for example, are fewer traffickers being convicted. In fact, conviction rates failed by 13% in three years, from 2008 to 2010. We also know, according to this data, that the vast majority of victims, 80%, are women and girls, and 20% of the victims, men and boys, and the detrimental majority are victims of sexual exploitation.
In fact, we hear that the percentage of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation is increasing each year, whereas the percentage reported for labour exploitation has dropped. I take this with a big question mark, because it could be that we are better at doing our job and identifying victims, or it could be well indeed that these are the numbers, and that we do not really know. So I take very seriously the comments by Professor Archer in this.
What is very interesting, as I said, is that 61% of the victims that we actually identified are EU citizens. And from outside the EU, the majority of victims come from Nigeria and China. So what are we doing about this? I can say, and in that sense I feel very confident in saying that, that the EU is uniquely positioned to address human trafficking, because what we have is hard law, creating legal obligations on the Member States, we have robust enforcement mechanisms, where we can and indeed do take the Member States to Court and where fines are often imposed. We have a very comprehensive policy framework and, as sometimes we joke about, we have a lot of financial support. So we have law, we have policy, and we have funds. We have the tools, we have the necessary tools to address trafficking in human beings and I do not say that as an EU official. That is something that is acknowledged very widely at the moment by the international community, our Member States, frontline officials, and very tellingly for me, from the civil society who really believe in the work that we do. So, what is needed now and, to a large extent is how I see my part and my role and mandate, is to ensure the full implementation of these instruments to achieve concrete results.
When it comes to the legislation, I will not say much about the legislation but it is the first, this EU directive if you like, is the first EU measure of criminal law nature that harmonizes the definition of the crime and penalties. It lays down robust definitions to help investigate and prosecute traffickers, deliver victims’ protection, assistance, support, provisions to prevent the crime, to better monitor and evaluate our efforts. It is a piece of legislation that the EU can be proud of and it was adopted in record time: it places the victims at its heart, it ensures that people who are victims of trafficking are given an opportunity to recover and to reintegrate in society. I will not go into depths about the directive and all the provisions. But what I can say to you, that it is indeed very ambitious, it is very innovative, and I would dare say the most forward and comprehensive regional and international instrument that we have on the issue.
But, we have a big but. Our Member States had to translate this legislation into their National Law by April 2013. As of last week, that I had the latest information, only 18 of the 27 Member States informed the European Commission that they fully did their job. So the other ten have not told us that they have done their job. And of course, it is one thing that the Member States notify that they have done their job, and it is another for me to ensure that they have correctly applied the EU law.
What we are now doing, which is exceptional at the EU level, is so quickly move on to what we are call infringement procedures. What that means, is that we intend to take the Member States who have not fully done their job to court. This is exceptional, because the EU normally would not do that in such a short span of time. But as I always say, and as the Commissioner of Home Affairs always says, we are not talking about any EU law, we are talking about victims of trafficking whose lives are at stake, while we are sitting in this comfortable room.
We have other pieces of legislation, in fact we have 17 pieces of legislation dealing with victims of trafficking, but one that is very, maybe, relevant to today’s work is a directive on combatting the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, which asks the Member States to approximate legislation on a comprehensive list of offences. So we have the legislation, but that again is not enough, even if it is well implemented; what we also need is a policy framework to match this legislation. So this policy framework at the EU level – we call it the EU Strategy Towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings – is for the period 2012 to 2016. We have about 40 actions, most of which the European Commission is responsible for. It has been highly welcomed by an impressive list of stakeholders and what this strategy does, it prioritises over identifying, protecting and assisting the victims, stepping up the prevention – and I will come back to that in a minute – increased prosecution of traffickers, because, as I said before, prosecution rates were going down – enhanced coordination and cooperation, and here I can say that I am responsible for monitoring and implementing the policy framework until 2016, and to increase knowledge and effective response to emerging concerns, because the reality is, we know something about trafficking but we do not know enough. If I may, as Ambassador Swing said, I do not think we have mastered this struggle and we need to know a lot more in order to do so.
I will not name any of the 40 actions here, but what I can tell you is that the big aim of this policy framework is to work together with a lot of different stakeholders in order to implement our work. So in a rare example of the Commission work, we work with 8 different department services of the European Commission, with European agencies, with our Member States, in order to do our job. We also have an EU Anti-Trafficking Day, which is marked on 18th October and this year, on the 7th Anti-Trafficking Day, we marked this day in Lithuania under the Lithuanian Presidency. I read in one of the documents for today, that it would be a good proposal to have a global World Day against Trafficking. So that is something to consider.
What we did for this year’s Anti-Trafficking Day is to look at Internet recruitment. And this is certainly one area that we all say is extremely important but we know very little about, and I discovered that when we were looking for speakers for this Anti-Trafficking Day. It is normally a very prestigious event and everybody, if I may, is struggling to get a speaking space. This year it was difficult to find experts on recruitment online, facilitation of victim recruitment and so on. So we are very aware of the urgent need to address the fact that the use of the Internet is expanding. In fact Europol, our intelligence-gathering agency, states that Internet will be an even more important marketplace for illicit commodities and criminal services in the future. What we learnt on this Anti-Trafficking Day is that when it comes to victims of sexual exploitation, both adults and children, the Internet is at the moment the primary recruiter of victims, where traffickers also advertise services. So this is something to be thinking about further in terms of discussing demand reduction. And here I want to elaborate: addressing demand is a key aspect of the legal and policy framework at the EU level. Many of the papers, in the next two days, in many different ways focus on demand reduction from different angles. There is no supply without demand. And we cannot continue focusing only on the criminals and the victims without addressing the huge grey area, the bridge between the two, who are the clients, the customers, the users, the procurers, which again is something that Ambassador Swing already referred to. For each woman trafficked for sexual exploitation, there is a user, there is a client, there is a procurer, asking for that service. For each and every little girl exploited in prostitution and pornography, there is someone asking for that service.
The EU legislation is unique. Why is it unique? It obliges the EU Member States to take effective and practical measures to curb demand for all forms of exploitation; for example, employers hiring trafficked persons, and clients buying sexual services from victims of trafficking, and raising awareness of potential victims about the risks of falling prey to the traffickers. This is a legal obligation in the EU at the moment, to take actions to reduce this demand. What our legal instrument also says is that it urges Member States, I have to quote the language to get it completely right: “to consider measures for criminalising the use of services with the knowledge that the person is a victim of trafficking”. So what I have to do is draft a report based on this, to submit to the Commission, to the European Parliament and the Council, on the impact of such policies, accompanied by legislative proposals as appropriate.
We could indeed consider that making use of services with the knowledge that the person is a victim of trafficking is a crime. So the key question in my head, in the head of the Commissioner of Home Affairs, and of many ministers at the EU level at the moment, is one. Which other areas of crime include a user who knowingly gets involved in a crime and is not criminalised? So this is a question that we need to be thinking about. This concerns all forms of exploitation. However, we understand that the detrimental majority of sexual exploitation are women and girls. We acknowledge that there is a link between trafficking and women in prostitution that we cannot ignore. We formally recognise that trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation is structural and it constitutes violence against women.
We note with concern in recent years a worrying tendency to focus less on trafficking for sexual exploitation, in fact silencing trafficking for sexual exploitation. We do not think that it is more important than other forms of exploitation. We think that it is equally important. We have not done our job. We do not have examples where we have managed to stop, to eradicate, to eliminate this problem. And we need to be doing our job and to be doing more. So we need to have equal focus on sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, and all other forms. We have received criticism that the lack of competence in the field of regulating prostitution has been used as a pretext for not addressing this issue. The lack of legal competency on prostitution does not mean that the European Commission is turning a blind eye to the interplay between prostitution and trafficking, so we must insist on understanding more this issue. We need to understand this link, and for this reason the Commission is funding a number of projects to make informed decisions in this area. In the meantime, we have a very ambitious legal instrument that we have adopted. The recent opening of the demand and consent chapters of the Palermo Protocol leave me very reluctant. We have a very ambitious policy framework in the EU, dealing with demand; reopening the chapter on consent and demand, would not be something that the EU is very much looking forward to.
What the EU is looking forward to, and we are very keen to do so, is implement our legal and policy framework, in terms of the key role of civil society including service providers in activities aimed at addressing trafficking in human beings. Funding is very important in this direction; we think civil society should be equal partners and I very welcome the work of faith-based organisations across the globe, with whom we cooperate very closely because of the service provision that they provide to the victims. In this spirit, very recently in May the Commission launched an EU Civil Society platform, with over one hundred civil society organisations participating. The platform – some of the members are here today, so I am very happy to see some of you here today – brings together a wide range of organisations working in the field of trafficking, such as human rights organisations, faith-based organisations, women’s rights, migrant rights, faith-based assistance, research, and the reason for that is that trafficking in human beings is not something that can be dealt with from a monolithic perspective, from only a security perspective, we need a very multi-disciplinary approach and we need all types of NGOs to work with us and other stakeholders to work with us on this issue.
We also need to work with the private sector. In fact, without the private sector there is very little we can do. We very much welcome, for example, the Buy Responsibly Campaign of the IOM and the need to focus more on the supply chains. What do we buy, who do we buy things from, how do we know who is making the products that we use. When it comes to labour exploitation especially, working with the business sector is fundamental. And we need to go back to our supply chains all the way from the beginning. For this reason we are launching a European Business Coalition, in 2014, where we want to get European businesses or European-based businesses to take their role and responsibilities more to heart. And also to hopefully develop models and guidelines to reduce demand, for services provided by victims of trafficking. We need to work with temporary work agencies, we need to work with all these people advertising online, sometimes legal businesses operating online and then trapping their clients or their customers.
Let me turn to external cooperation. The recent daunting experience of Lampedusa only a months ago, where a few hundred human lives were lost in the search for a better life, is just a horrifying reminder, it is not the exception, it is the rule; it is what happens every day. And it is a reminder of the need to be doing more. And here there is also the reminder on the need to focus on clear concepts and phenomena that, although very much inter-linked and inter-related, are distinct. Trafficking in human beings, human smuggling and irregular migration are often conflated and confused. I go back to Professor Archer, I read her paper but I have to say some things on that, from a European Commission perspective.
There are links between trafficking in human beings, human smuggling and irregular migration. There are very clear links but there are also distinctions. Trafficking in human beings, in our law, has as its main objective the exploitation of an individual for profit, often using coercion and control, and that, first of all, is a violation of human rights and freedoms and a crime against the person. Trafficking does not need to have a transnational element in order to be trafficking in human beings, as opposed to human smuggling, which by definition, in our legislation, is a cross-border phenomenon. Smuggling is the irregular movement of people across borders in exchange for payment, but not necessarily with an exploitative purpose, although the smuggled person may still end up being exploited. It is therefore a crime against the State, or it concerns the protection of the State against violation of its borders. And I remind you here that 61% of the victims of trafficking that were formally identified in the EU are EU citizens.
So why do we work with third countries and how do we work as the European Union? First, third countries are often places of origin and transit for trafficking to the EU; second, as a grave violation of human rights it is a clear objective of EU external action; and third, as a cross-border irregular illegal activity is an important area for cooperation between the EU and third countries. So the EU has adopted the list of priority countries for cooperation in line with what we call the action-oriented paper, which is our external policy on trafficking in human beings. It is based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and I will give you the list of countries, which is based on the number of victims that we have had in the EU and a number of other criteria. The countries are Albania, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Morocco, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. And of course other regions, but I am specifying countries. I am currently coordinating a large-scale exercise with the European external action service where the EU will continue to follow the implementation of measures strengthening the EU external dimension.
Trafficking in human beings is included in all migration dialogues; the EU has entered mobility partnerships, our framework of the Eastern Partnership, human rights dialogues, a lot of different instruments that we use to work on trafficking and, increasingly so, we ensure that it is at the forefront of our external efforts.
Before I close, a few things on financial support to address human trafficking. As I said, we have EU hard law, which we enforce, and I talked about the directive, we have policy that we monitor, and of course we have funding, and this is what makes the EU able to be concrete in the ability to match its work with its priorities. The EU is the main contributor of humanitarian aid in the world, and the main donor of international and regional bodies, some of them in the room. Funding programmes range from migration to gender equality, employment, development cooperation and so on and so forth. We have funded specific programmes on trafficking in human beings on different topics, on labour exploitation, child trafficking, forced begging, sexual exploitation and so on. We have funded some of the NGOs in the room. We have different funding opportunities in enlargement, development, humanitarian aid, research, social affairs, and a lot more. Why am I saying that? Since 2003 the EU has funded hundreds of millions worth of projects across the globe to address the phenomenon of human trafficking, and it has done so from a very diverse perspective. What we are doing now is launching a review to see – and again I am going back to the Ambassador’s speech – has it had an impact? I am not sure, if I may, with all due respect to the UN Special Rapporteur. We need more funding and we need to continue with the funding, but what we need to do is ensure that this funding produces impact, produces results, is better coordinated, we use the recommendations of the projects, we evaluate better, we assess better and we target our policy priorities better. So, for me, the result of all our actions is fundamental, and this is what the Commission wants to see in the future, because this will strengthen future projects and provide a solid basis for coherent, cost effective and strategic EU policy and funding initiatives in the future.
Just to close, what I have tried to say is that the EU has several very specific, very unique and very powerful tools at its disposal, and it is now time to use this, they are very recent instruments; what we need to do is use these instruments and make sure that their full potential is utilised. And the message I bring from the EU, from the European Commission, is one of building partnerships. Everyone in this room, different countries, different actors, different types of organisations, I think we all have the same objective, to help the victims, and to ensure that no more people become entrapped in this complex web, which is the slavery of our times. We come from very different places of strength, in order to achieve that. And it is only with real systematic cooperation in joining this strength that this can be achieved. If we fail to do this, if we fail to use these possibilities, if we fail to be ambitious, we fail the victims, and we fail our work, and we fail ourselves. And unless we feel personally responsible, that we are not in any way involved, or indirectly support such practices, we will never be able to eradicate this phenomenon. It is our moral and legal duty to work together, to eradicate trafficking in human beings. Only a year and a half ago I was actually accused of being over ambitious, by talking about working towards the eradication of human trafficking. What do we say: ‘Oh we want to have a little bit less’? This would be an insult to the victims and to our humanity.
Two weeks ago the UN Special Rapporteur, and I welcome her statement, used exactly the EU language in a statement she issued. She issued a statement talking about the eradication of trafficking in human beings. We welcome that and we hope that this is something that will continue. We must use the possibilities, we could use the EU as an example of a legal and policy framework. We must be ambitious. I think that the clock is ticking to the detriment of people’s lives and we cannot afford to stay silent. I hope that this workshop is an effort to break this silence.
Thank you very much.