Forced labour and trafficking in Europe: how people are trapped in, live through and come out

The paper is based on ILO research carried out between 2003 and 2007. It summarizes largely qualitative research from ten European source, transit and destination countries. It is therefore the result of a collective effort of researchers from many countries. The purpose of this project was to close a gap in current research that exists up to today: Most trafficking-related research, in particular primary research, focuses on trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Other forms of trafficking, such as those linked to forced labour in labour-intensive economic sectors, are still under-researched and under-theorized.

This paper will argue against the common perception that “women are trafficked while men are smuggled”. Furthermore, it will shift the focus away from organised crime and instead look at labour market dynamics. It cannot be denied that irregular migration is big business for smuggling and trafficking networks. The police have dismantled some of these networks over recent years, which has brought to light a high degree of sophistication and violence. Many exploitative practices, however, are less spectacular and less organised. They take place in mainstream economic sectors, such as agriculture, construction or the service industry where there is a high demand for cheap and exploitable labour. Most migrant workers are not forced at gunpoint to work under hazardous conditions. There is a large enough pool of migrants who took
countless risks to illegally enter Europe and who are determined to make their journey a success. But not all of them succeed. And those who demand a better bargain for their labour are quickly replaced by more docile workers. The supply is huge and shifting gradually further East and South.
The main purpose of this paper is to shed light on coercive labour practices in mainstream economic sectors, while not neglecting the particular situation of women and minors in the sex industry. It will look into the pre-migration situation and recruitment of “successful migrants” as compared to those who were forced to work under conditions they could not chose freely. It will further analyse means of coercion, the motivation of employers and exit strategies for migrants trapped in forced labour.
In so doing, the paper links the source of trafficking with the final destination by analysing the different stages in the trafficking cycle.