Access to protection and remedies for victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation

Last week, ILO Brussels and SIOD jointly organised an online workshop on ‘Access to protection and remedies for victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation’.

News | 27 October 2021
The aim of this workshop was to raise awareness among the social inspectorates, including the labour inspectorates of Belgium, and to illustrate to interested stakeholders the practical aspects and challenges of access to remedies and protection to victims of and those at risk of labour exploitation. Mr Hilaire Willems, Deputy Director of SIOD, kindly took a few moments to say dive deeper into the topic with us and share his experiences of the issue for the ILO Brussels Newsletter.

Can you introduce your organisation to us? What do you do exactly?

SIOD (Social Intelligence and Investigation Service) is an important actor in the fight against national and cross-border social fraud. SIOD is not an operational service and therefore does not carry out investigations on the ground as public inspection services do, such as labour and social inspectorates. SIOD is a coordinating and strategic body that, on the basis of the knowledge and insights of the services involved and through scientific support, develops a vision of the fight against social fraud and translates this into concrete strategies to tackle the problem. In this way, SIOD also contributes to the strategic plan and the annual action plans to combat social fraud and to the functioning of the board for the fight against fiscal and social fraud. SIOD also provides coordination in the field of policy support, within the framework of the strategic plan and the annual operational action plans.
For those interested in learning more about SIOD, a full overview of its mission, tasks and composition can be found in chapter 2 of the Social Penal Code.

What did you learn from the study and what recommendations will you continue to work with in your organisation?

The study carried out by ILO-Brussels and Dr. Weatherburn is a very important one, focusing on the role of a number of important partners in the access to legal remedies and protection of potential victims of trafficking for economic exploitation, especially labour exploitation. For SIOD, the special role of the social inspectorates is obviously very important and was highlighted. In that respect, we are pleased that the study focused on how social inspectors could contribute to the detection of and access to legal remedies, for example by including detailed information about the situation/working conditions in their inspection reports, by collecting and holding contact details of potential victims, and by informing victims about their rights.

SIOD highly values cooperation and are strong advocates of an integral and integrated approach. Given the particular complexity of human trafficking, such an approach is also necessary. In that respect, it is instructive to also find elements in the report about the role of other actors (e.g. trade unions, the courts, NGOs). An added value of the study is that the report not only addresses bottlenecks, but also makes suggestions to address them (e.g. linking material benefit for the victim to an administrative fine or raising awareness about existing tools of social inspectors) and puts forward a number of best practices from the two countries (e.g. payment of wages on the spot).

Human trafficking is one of the policy priorities included in the Strategic Plan for Combating Social Fraud (which is currently being finalised for the period 2022-2025). SIOD aspires to a programmatic approach to this problem: which was already provided for in the current Operational Action Plan of 2021 and will also be continued in the new action plan. The study and the workshop in general have formulated a number of recommendations that SIOD wants to integrate into its work processes . These include, for instance, the need for further cooperation with all partners in the enforcement area, the demand for further awareness raising and training of social inspectors, and the formulation of proposals for adjustment of the current legal framework.

What role do social inspectors have in detecting and facilitating access to legal remedies and protection for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation?

Perhaps many people's first thought would be that of the police if one was to be asked who detects victims of trafficking. And of course, the police have a big part to play in this story. But so do social inspectors. After all, they are particularly well placed to detect potential victims since they visit places of work where workers are, or can be, exploited. They can make observations about the work situation, interview employers and talk to employees. This also gives them the opportunity to inform workers about their rights, and to refer them to specialised centres for assistance. Some inspectorates have specialised teams working on human trafficking, such as the NSSO or TSW. These teams have specialised knowledge in this matter and also provide training to other social inspectors.

What objectives were achieved through the organisation of the workshop?

During the preparation of this workshop it was decided that the main objective was to raise awareness and to sensitise both specialised and non-specialised social inspectors to the issues of detection and access to protection and remedies for victims and potential victims of trafficking for economic exploitation. Looking at the large number of participants from the different inspectorates, I believe that this objective has been achieved. There has been a great deal of interest in the workshop. This shows that we are on the right track for further awareness-raising actions or for organising training.

In addition, I think that together we also succeeded in bringing together interesting and knowledgeable speakers with different perspectives from social inspection services, social partners, justice, and policy. There is a great willingness to cooperate, to listen to each other and to look for solutions.

All in all, I think we can speak of a successful cooperation between ILO-Brussels and SIOD.