Trafficking in human beings is a grave violation of fundamental rights, prohibited by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 5), and considered as a serious form of organised crime by the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (Article 83).
On 19 December 2022, the Commission presented a proposal to strengthen the EU rules to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings.
The development of this complex crime require new actions at the EU level, as traffickers are benefitting from further opportunities to recruit, control, transport and exploit the victims, as well as move profits and reach out to users everywhere in the EU and beyond without crossing any border.
The updated rules will provide stronger tools for law enforcement and the judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute new forms of exploitation, as well as people who use the services provided by victims of trafficking, while knowing that these persons are trafficked. The Commission’s proposal provides for mandatory sanctions against legal persons for trafficking offences committed for their own benefit. It also aims at improving procedures for the early identification and support of the victims in the Member States, which will foster the creation of a European Referral Mechanism. The revision of the Anti-trafficking Directive will update and further harmonise the EU legal framework, with the specific aim of facilitating cross-border cooperation in cross-border cases.
It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to examine the proposal. Once adopted, Member States will have to transpose the new rules into their national law.
EU Anti-trafficking Directive
The EU legal and policy framework on trafficking in human beings is victims-centred, gender-specific, child sensitive and anchored in human rights. The EU Anti-trafficking Directive is the fundamental EU legislative act addressing trafficking in human beings. It establishes:
- minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions
- common provisions to strengthen victim's protection, assistance and support, as well as prevention
- key actors to fight against the crime
The Directive was adopted on 5 April 2011, and entered into force on 15 April 2011.
EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings
On 14 April 2021, the Commission adopted a new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025). This initiative provides for a comprehensive response to the crime – from preventing the crime, and protecting and empowering victims to bringing traffickers to justice.
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 (2021-2025).
- 2022 Q&A: EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings
- NEW Factsheet 2022
- 2022 Press release
- 2021 factsheet, press release, Q&A
Every two years, the European Commission adopts a report on the progress made in the fight against human trafficking. The fourth progress report was presented on 19 December.
Every two years, the European Commission adopts a report on the progress made in the fight against human trafficking. The Commission’s first (2016), second (2018), third (2020) and fourth (2022) reports provide a factual overview on the progress made, and present patterns, challenges, and key issues in addressing trafficking in human beings in the EU.
Policy cooperation with partners
In 2017, the Council decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime for the period 2018 – 2021 to tackle the most important threats.
Trafficking in human beings remains a priority crime area in the EU Policy cycle for organised and serious international crime: EMPACT 2018-2021 with the objective “to fight against the trafficking in human beings in the EU for all forms of exploitation, including sexual and labour exploitation as well as all forms of child trafficking”.
EMPACT is a structured multidisciplinary co-operation platform of EU countries, EU institutions and agencies, as well as third countries, international organisations and other (public and private) partners to address the prioritised threats of organised and serious international crime, including trafficking in human beings.
The EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) presents a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime in the EU. The SOCTA 2021 identifies trafficking in human beings as a crime that poses significant threats to EU citizens. The SOCTA report published by Europol every four years is a forward-looking assessment that identifies shifts in the serious and organised crime landscape.
- 19 December 2022Proposal of the revision of the Anti-Trafficking Directive
The revision of the Anti-trafficking Directive will update and further harmonise the EU legal framework, with the specific aim of facilitating cross-border cooperation in cross-border cases. The revision includes:
- Adding forced marriage and illegal adoption among the forms of exploitation explicitly covered by the Anti-trafficking Directive.
- Referring explicitly to trafficking offences committed or facilitated by means of information and communication technologies.
- Introducing mandatory sanctions against legal persons held accountable for trafficking offences, by excluding companies from entitlement to public benefits, aid or subsidies, or closing the establishments used for committing the offence.
- Requiring the formal establishment of national referral mechanisms.
- Criminalising the use of services obtained from victims of trafficking, when the user knows that the person is a victim in order to step up the prevention efforts related to reducing the demand that fosters trafficking in human beings and all forms of exploitation.
- Formalising an annual EU-wide data collection on trafficking in human beings conducted and published by Eurostat.
- 14 April 2021EU Strategy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025
The Commission adopted a new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings, which is closely related to the EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025. While the priorities and actions of the strategy against organised crime apply to trafficking in human beings, this strategy responds to the specific aspects of the crime of human trafficking.
The EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in human beings proposes concrete actions to identify and stop trafficking early on, to go after criminals by turning trafficking from a low-risk and high-return crime to high-risk and low-return crime, and to protect the victims and help them rebuild their lives.
The Strategy puts forward a comprehensive response to combatting trafficking in human beings, from prevention through protection of victims to prosecution and conviction of traffickers. It aims at:
- reducing demand for trafficking and all forms of exploitation
- breaking the criminal model to halt victims’ exploitation
- protecting, supporting and empowering victims, especially women and children
- to deepen cooperation across the international dimension
- 4 October 2017Report on the follow-up to the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016
The Commission Communication builds upon the existing policy and rules and proposes further action to step up prevention. It focuses on:
- disrupting the business model that trafficking in human beings depends on
- improving victims’ access to rights
- ensuring that EU internal and external actions provide a coordinated and consistent response
Widening the knowledge base and improving understanding of this complex phenomenon, and providing appropriate funding in support of anti-trafficking initiatives and projects are two cross-cutting priorities.
- 14 November 2012Victim’s Rights Directive
Directive 2012/29/EU reinforces existing national measures and establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime in every EU country. Victims must have the right to:
- understand and to be understood during contact with an authority (for example plain and simple language)
- receive information from the first contact with an authority
- make a formal complaint and receive written acknowledgement
- interpretation and translation (at least during interviews/questioning of the victim)
- receive information about the case’s progress access victim support services
- 19 June 2012EU strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012–2016
The EU strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings identifies 5 priorities for the EU to focus on to address the issue of trafficking in human beings: prevention, protection, prosecution, partnerships and awareness.
It also outlines a number of actions which the European Commission proposes to implement during this period, in concert with other actors, including EU countries, non-EU countries, European External Action Service, EU institutions, EU agencies, international organisations, civil society and the private sector.
- 5 April 2011Anti-trafficking directive
Directive 2011/36/EU lays down minimum common rules for determining offences of trafficking in human beings and punishing offenders. It also provides for measures to prevent this phenomenon and to strengthen the protection of victims.
- 18 June 2009Employers Sanctions Directive
Directive 2009/52/EC prohibits the employment of illegally staying third-country nationals in order to fight illegal immigration. To this end, it lays down minimum common standards on sanctions and measures to be applied in the Member States against employers who infringe that prohibition.
- 29 April 2004Directive on the residence permit for victims of human trafficking
Directive 2004/81/EC foresees that residence permits of temporary duration may be issued to non-EU nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or subject of an illegal immigration action.
Related policy initiatives
- EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025
- EU Security Union Strategy
- Communication on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum
- EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027
- EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse
- EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs 2021-2025
- EU Victims’ Rights
- EU Gender Equality Strategy
- Council conclusions on setting the EU’s priorities for the fight against serious and organised crime between 2018 and 2021
- Commission communication: Reporting on the follow-up to the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of trafficking in human beings and identifying further concrete actions