Forced labour: an EU problem

New ILO estimates show forced labour is a serious issue in the European Union. Many countries are adopting increasing measures to tackle the problem, but more is needed when it comes to identifying and prosecuting criminals.

Press release | 10 July 2012
BRUSSELS (ILO news) – According to new and unique ILO estimates on forced labour and human trafficking in the European Union, 880,000 people are in forced labour in the EU Member states, which statistically equals 1.8 persons per 1,000 inhabitants.
  • Out of the 880,000 forced labourers, 30% are estimated to be victims of forced sexual exploitation and 70% of forced labour exploitation.
  • Women constitute the clear majority of victims (58%).
  • EU citizens were involved in the majority of cases of forced labour exploitation reported in EU Member states. Other victims came from Asia, Africa and Central and South-Eastern Europe.
  • Victims of forced sexual exploitation came primarily from the EU, Central and South-Eastern Europe, Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America and Asia.
  • Adults and children can also be forced into illicit or informal economic activities, including begging.
  • Central & South Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States is the region with the highest prevalence of forced labour per 1,000 inhabitants globally (4.2/1,000 inhabitants). 13 out of 19 countries of this region are at the EU’s doorstep.
Twitter Q&A Session
Ask your questions on Twitter to Ms. Beate Andrees, head of the ILO's Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, on 12 July 2012 at 16:00 Brussels time (14:00 GMT) at!/ilo (hashtag #EUFL).
“Our analysis of cases clearly shows that agriculture, domestic work, manufacturing and construction are the main sectors where forced labour was found in the EU. Victims are lured with false job offers only to find out that conditions of work are worse than they anticipated. Many of them are in an irregular situation and have very limited bargaining power”, says the head of the ILO’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, Beate Andrees.

The challenge of better identification and prosecution

In recent years, EU Member States have gradually adopted a more comprehensive approach towards trafficking for forced labour and sexual exploitation. The ILO worked jointly with the governments of Germany, Portugal, Italy, Poland, France, Romania and the United Kingdom, to carry out research on the mechanisms of recruitment, deception and abuse in sectors that are vulnerable to trafficking. Also the capacity of labour inspectors throughout the EU in the fight against forced labour has been reinforced (e.g. in Portugal, Poland, Italy and Germany).

Nevertheless, in light of these striking new figures, Beate Andrees says that attention should turn to better identification and prosecution of forced labour and related offences such as human trafficking: “The successful prosecution of individuals who bring such misery to so many remains inadequate – this needs to change. We must ensure that the number of victims does not rise during the current economic crisis where people are increasingly vulnerable to these abusive practices.”

Forced labour is the term used by the international community to denote situations in which the persons involved – women and men, girls and boys – are made to work against their free will, coerced by their recruiter or employer, for example through violence or threats of violence, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. Such situations can also amount to human trafficking or slavery-like practices, which are similar though not identical terms in a legal sense. International law stipulates that exacting forced labour is a crime, and should be punishable through penalties which reflect the gravity of the offence.


For more information or interview requests, please contact: Barbara Janssens, ILO-Brussels Communication Assistant, mob +32/484-915559, tel +322/737-9387, or: ILO-Brussels, +322/736-5942,,