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FLEX: Trafficking for Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation

AQUAPOL brings together EU countries’ national maritime and inland water law enforcement agencies, providing a forum for an exchange of know-how and good practice. The goal is a more effective and common approach to securing international shipping.

Project dates 28/10/2009 - 28/02/2011
Total budget€115 032
EU contribution70%
Project CoordinatorEuropean Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nationals (HEUNI) (Finland)
Project partners
  • University of Tartu (Estonia)
  • University of Warsaw (Poland)

Project Description

The FLEX project examined the phenomenon of trafficking for the purpose of forced labour in Finland, Estonia and Poland. Traditionally, more focus has been put on trafficking for sexual exploitation, leading to a lower level of awareness of labour trafficking. Any awareness of labour trafficking is often based on stereotypical ideas of exploitation.

FLEX identified potential cases of labour trafficking involving migrant workers and identified the sectors and victims vulnerable to such exploitation in Finland, Estonia and Poland. As very little concrete data on trafficking for forced labour exists, the project undertook a very broad approach, collecting a variety of qualitative and quantitative data and information.

The project also developed an outline for a pilot research methodology on how to collect comprehensive information on labour trafficking.

Benefits and results

FLEX raised awareness and understanding of the issue of trafficking for labour exploitation. The project used a networking approach to both collect and disseminate information, as well as to enhance cooperation between national and international actors working in the field of anti-trafficking. This included representatives from labour unions, labour inspectorates, police and border guards, NGOs and employment services.

The research undertaken by the FLEX project confirmed the existence of trafficking for forced labour in Finland, Estonia and Poland. The trafficking did not necessarily involve extreme violence, coercion or force. Instead, victims are effectively exploited through more subtle psychological means of control.

The research showed that the distinction between trafficking for forced labour and other forms of labour exploitation is challenging for criminal justice professionals and other actors, and that cases of trafficking for forced labour are not adequately identified in the three countries. The research findings were published in three national reports and a joint report in English.

Following the research, an international expert meeting took place, bringing together representatives from international organisations for an exchange of views and to discuss the research findings.

The research report was the first such study in both Finland and Estonia. In Finland, the launch of the national report caused a nation-wide debate on the issue, which significantly increased awareness and understanding of trafficking for forced labour.

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