On 14 April 2021, the European Commission presented a new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025).
In 2020, the European Commission issued two studies on:
- the economic, social and human costs of Trafficking in Human Beings in the EU and
- reviewing the Functioning of Member States’ National and Transnational Referral Mechanisms.
Both studies are key actions of the 2017 Commission Communication Reporting on the follow-up to the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings and identifying further concrete actions.
Eurostat also publishes key statistics on trafficking in human beings.
Previous publications, listed below, present an overview of the work carried out under the EU legal and policy framework.
"EU anti-trafficking action 2012-2016 at a glance" provides an overview of the work carried out in the past five years on the basis of the EU comprehensive legal and policy framework to address trafficking in human beings, that is, the Anti-trafficking Directive and the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016.
This framework is focused on victims and is human rights based, gender specific and child sensitive. In addition, the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator has the overall responsibility of improving coordination and coherence among EU institutions, EU agencies, Member States and international actors, and for developing existing and new EU policies to address THB. In this context, extensive work both at the political as well as the operational level is conducted in the external and external dimension of EU policies, in areas ranging from security to migration, justice, equality, anti-discrimination, fundamental rights, employment, development, research, humanitarian aid, and fisheries, amongst others.
Although non-exhaustive, "EU anti-trafficking action 2012-2016 at a glance" aims at highlighting the key instruments and tools delivered during this period in order to support and raise awareness for our joint efforts against trafficking in human beings, encourage the widest possible use in order to ensure full impact and implementation of commitments, as well minimise duplication of efforts. Please note that, to this end, each section includes a link to the relevant source.
Implementing a key action set forth in the 2017 Communication stepping up EU action to address trafficking in human beings (Priority B), the European Commission published Working together to address trafficking in human beings: key concepts in a nutshell.
The document is to be seen in the context of contributing to a coordinated and consolidated Union response against trafficking in human beings. The text does not provide an interpretation of EU law, but is intended to disseminate knowledge about trafficking in human beings by providing the conceptual clarity that is necessary for concrete policies, operational action and funding allocations. The selection of widely used concepts is based on publicly available information on trafficking in human beings published by the European Commission, EU agencies, and international organisations.
Every 2 years, the European Commission publishes a report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings.
On 19 December 2022, the European Commission published its fourth report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings. This Report identifies key patterns and challenges in addressing trafficking in human beings, provides an analysis of statistics and outlines the results of anti-trafficking actions. It is complemented by a staff working document providing more detailed, comprehensive and substantiated information.
On 20 October 2020, the European Commission published its third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings.This Report identifies key patterns and challenges in addressing trafficking in human beings, provides an analysis of statistics and outlines the results of anti-trafficking actions. It is complemented by a staff working document providing detailed, comprehensive and substantiated information.
The study on data collection on trafficking in human beings in the EU (2020), accompanying this progress report, provides in-depth analysis of criminal justice statistical data for years 2017 and 2018. This data collection has been carried out in a continued effort from the Commission and the Member States to provide evidence on the criminal phenomenon and on its victims.
On the occasion of the EU Anti-Trafficking Day, the Commission also published the Study on the economic, social and human cost of human trafficking and the Study on reviewing the functioning of Member States’ National and Transnational Referral Mechanisms.
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On 4 December 2018, the European Commission presented its Second Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings.
Taking stock of measures taken since 2015, the report highlights the main trends in trafficking in human beings and outlines remaining challenges that the EU and Member States must address as a matter of priority.
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: "Thousands of human beings are still trafficked every year in the European Union. This happens right under our watch – to women, children, to EU and non-EU citizens. Despite progress in some areas, there is an imperative need to end the culture of impunity for perpetrators and abusers. It is time for law enforcement and justice authorities across Member States to further step up cooperation and duly enforce existing legislation to catch those involved in this heinous crime, and offer effective and rightful protection to the victims”.
The EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, Myria Vassiliadou, said: "The findings of this second report are encouraging but at the same time concerning. A lot has been achieved but our ultimate goal must remain eradicating the crime, we owe this to the victims. We have a rich toolbox at EU level ready to be fully implemented and ensure that no victims remain invisible."
The report shows that 20,532 men, women and children were registered as victims of trafficking in the EU in 2015-2016. However, the actual number is likely to be significantly higher as many victims remain undetected. Women and girls continue to be most vulnerable to trafficking (68%) while children represent 23% of registered victims. Trafficking for sexual exploitation remains the most widespread form (56%), followed by trafficking for labour exploitation (26%). The level of prosecutions and convictions is low, with 5,979 prosecutions and 2,927 convictions reported and only 18 reported convictions for knowingly using services provided by victims. The report also highlights an increase in trafficking within Member States and targeting of younger victims and persons with disabilities. The use of Internet and social media to recruit victims is also noted as well as the heightened risk of trafficking in the context of migration.
While there have been certain improvements, particularly in relation to cross-border cooperation (demonstrated by the joint efforts of Europol and Eurojust), the phenomenon continues to evolve. As a result, the Commission outlines a number of priority areas for Member States to focus on to effectively combat trafficking in human beings:
- Improved data collection: Member States should improve the recording and registration of data particularly on gender, age, forms of exploitation, citizenship of victims and perpetrators, as well as on assistance and protection;
- Countering the culture of impunity: EU rules already allow for the criminalisation of those who knowingly use services provided by victims of trafficking and the Commission encourages the Member States to implement those provisions in their national laws;
- Promoting a coordinated response: Member States should continue enhancing transnational law enforcement and judicial cooperation while at the same time promoting cooperation with non-EU countries;
- Ensuring victims' access to justice: Member States are encouraged to give effect to national legislation by ensuring tools are in place for early identification of victims, providing access to compensation, and promoting appropriate training and capacity building of relevant professionals.
Since the release of a first progress report, the Commission has taken numerous steps to address trafficking in human beings and will continue to assist Member States in their efforts, through both financial support and operational measures.
Trafficking in human beings is a violation of fundamental rights, and is explicitly prohibited under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The EU Anti-trafficking Directive adopted in 2011 put forward a victim-centred, gender-specific and child-sensitive approach to address trafficking in human beings, establishing robust provisions on victims' protection, assistance and support, as well as on prevention and prosecution of the crime. Under the Directive, Member States must report to the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator who in turn contributes to the Commission's bi-annual progress report.
On 4 December 2017, the Commission published a Communication outlining its priority actions to address trafficking in human beings. Today's report includes an update on the actions taken under this Communication and its findings will feed into the Communication's further implementation. Today's report also includes an update on the application of EU rules on residence permits for victims of trafficking (Directive 2004/81/EC).
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On 19 May 2016, the Commission adopted the first Report on progress in the fight against trafficking in human beings.
The European Commission reported on progress in the fight against trafficking in human beings. The report presents trends and challenges in addressing trafficking in human beings, examines progress made and highlights key challenges that the EU and its Member States need to address as a priority. Despite progress made, EU Member States need to step up efforts to fight effectively against trafficking in human beings.
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: "It is morally and legally unacceptable and inexcusable that in the EU of the 21st century, there are human beings who are bought, sold and exploited like commodities. It is our personal, collective and legal duty to stop this. We have put in place a strong and forward-looking legislative framework to do this. Our main responsibility is to ensure it is now fully implemented so that those responsible are prosecuted and the victims are fully protected and assisted. Today's landmark report will guide us in further developing our policy framework."
The EU Anti-trafficking coordinator, Myria Vassiliadou, said: "The adoption of the EU Anti-trafficking Directive in 2011 created important momentum in raising awareness on the scale of the phenomenon in the EU and the need to address it with a wide range of tools, from criminal law to prevention measures. The trends and challenges identified in this Report clearly show that it is now high time for Member States to step-up efforts to effectively implement the Directive and comply with its obligations."
The report finds that in 2013-2014, 15,846 women, men, girls and boys were registered as victims of trafficking in the EU. Given the complexity of reporting on this phenomenon, the actual number of victims is likely to be substantially higher than those registered by national authorities. According to the Report, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is still the most widespread form (67% of registered victims), followed by trafficking for labour exploitation (21% of registered victims). Over three quarters of the registered victims were women (76%), while at least 15% were children.
One of the most sharply increasing trends has been in the number of children falling victim to human traffickers. Victims with disabilities and victims of Roma ethnic background were also identified as increasing in number.
The report also highlights links between human trafficking and other forms of crime and the exploitation of the most vulnerable in the context of the current migration crisis as well as an increased use of the internet and new technologies to recruit victims.
To address the key challenges in the fight against trafficking in human beings, EU Member States need to fully and correctly implement the EU Anti-trafficking Directive in order to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators, establish appropriate mechanisms for the early identification and protection of victims and enhance measures to prevent the trafficking of human beings.
The Commission will continue working on a coordinated and consistent response to trafficking in human beings. By the end of 2016, the Commission will publish two reports on compliance and criminalisation as well as a post-2016 Strategy on trafficking in human beings. Child protection along the migration route is a top priority and the Commission is also paying particular attention to unaccompanied minors – very vulnerable to traffickers – in its reform of the Common European asylum system.
Errata Corrige: The table on page 13 of the report, that refers to DGPJ / MJ as a secondary data source of the OTSH, should read as follows:
Portugal has established an Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings (OTSH) which is to be understood as a monitoring system to collect quantitative and qualitative data from different entities with activities related to trafficking in human beings and to analyse data, and produce knowledge about the phenomenon. These activities include criminal and judicial related actions, as well as activities to support victim’s social reintegration. The OTSH has a network of more than 30 governmental and non-governmental bodies as primary data sources, as the DGPJ/Ministry of Justice, which provides the official data related to criminal and judicial actions (investigations, prosecutions and convictions). As secondary data sources, the OTSH contacts national Liaisons Officers, IOM/Lisbon Office, Europol. The Monitoring System is a part of the national referral mechanism on trafficking in human beings in Portugal. The status given to registers (as far as ‘Identified’ or ‘Not a victim of trafficking’) is given by the competent authority. The OTSH produces trimestral reports (classified) and an Annual Statistical Report that are validated by all data providers.
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