Migration and Home Affairs

Trafficking in human beings

Protecting our societies from organised crime, including tackling trafficking in human beings, is a priority under the new EU Security Union Strategy. Trafficking in human beings is a highly profitable crime that brings enormous profit to criminals while incurring a tremendous cost to society.

In 2015, the estimated global annual profit from trafficking in human beings amounts to EUR 29.4 billion. In the EU, in one single year, criminal revenues of trafficking for sexual exploitation, which is the most prevalent purpose of trafficking, are estimated at about EUR 14 billion. The economic cost of trafficking in the EU in a single year is estimated at EUR 2.7 billion.

  • 14 145 victims of trafficking in human beings were registered in the EU-27 in 2017-2018.
  • Trafficking for sexual exploitation remains the most prevalent form (60%), followed by labour exploitation (15%). Other forms of exploitation include among others, trafficking for forced criminality, forced begging, for organ removal.
  • 72% of all registered victims were women and girls.
  • Trafficking for sexual exploitation disproportionately affects female (92%) while trafficking for labour exploitation mostly affects male victims (68%).
  • 22% of all registered victims were children.
  • Around half of all victims were EU citizens, of which 34% were trafficked within their own Member State.

Trafficking in human beings is often linked with other forms of organised crime such as migrant smuggling, drug trafficking, smuggling of goods, extortion, money laundering, document fraud, payment card fraud, property crimes, cybercrime and other.

This complex criminal phenomenon continues to be systematically addressed in a wide range of EU policy areas and initiatives from security to migration, justice, equality, fundamental rights, research, development and cooperation, external action and employment to name a few.

For detailed information regarding trafficking in human beings at EU level, including guidelines, studies and reports, please visit the dedicated EU Anti-Trafficking Website.

EU Legal and Policy Framework

Trafficking in human beings is a grave violation of fundamental rights, prohibited by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - Article 5.3, and defined by the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union as a particularly serious form of organised crime - Article 83, with links to immigration policy - Article 79.

The EU legal and policy framework is victims-centred, gender-specific, child sensitive and anchored in human rights. The Directive 2011/36/EU on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime is the fundamental EU legislative act addressing trafficking in human beings. It establishes:

  • minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions
  • common provisions to strengthen victim's protection, assistance and support, as well as prevention
  • key actors to fight against the crime

Progress reports

The Directive requires that the European Commission adopts a report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings every two years. The Commission published such reports in 2016, 2018 and 2020, with accompanying Staff Working Documents and complementing data collections (e.g. 2018 Data study).  

The Commission’s Third progress report and its Staff Working Document, adopted on 20 October 2020, takes stock of measures taken in the European Union since 2017 and highlights persistent challenges and emerging patterns in trafficking in human beings. The report provides the latest EU-wide statistics and identifies areas where progress has been made, as well as concerns to be addressed. The Study on Data collection on trafficking in human beings in the EU (2020) provides in-depth analysis of criminal justice statistics for years 2017 and 2018.

Policy timeline

14 April 2021: EU Strategy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025

The Commission adopted a new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings, which is closely related  to the EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025. While the priorities and actions of the strategy against organised crime apply to trafficking in human beings, this strategy responds to the specific aspects of the crime of human trafficking.

The EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in human beings proposes concrete actions to identify and stop trafficking early on, to go after criminals by turning trafficking from a low-risk and high-return crime to high-risk and low-return crime, and to protect the victims and help them rebuild their lives.

The Strategy puts forward a comprehensive response to combatting trafficking in human beings, from prevention through protection of victims to prosecution and conviction of traffickers. It aims at:

  • reducing demand for trafficking and all forms of exploitation
  • breaking the criminal model to halt victims’ exploitation 
  • protecting, supporting and empowering victims, especially women and children 
  • to deepen cooperation across the international dimension

4 October 2017: Report on the follow-up to the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016

The Commission communication builds upon the existing policy and rules and proposes further action to step up prevention. It focuses on:

  • disrupting the business model that trafficking in human beings depends on
  • improving victims’ access to rights
  • ensuring that EU internal and external actions provide a coordinated and consistent response

Widening the knowledge base and improving understanding of this complex phenomenon, and providing appropriate funding in support of anti-trafficking initiatives and projects are two cross-cutting priorities.

14 November 2012: Victim’s Rights Directive

Directive 2012/29/EU reinforces existing national measures and establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime in every EU country. Victims must have the right to:

  • understand and to be understood during contact with an authority (for example plain and simple language)
  • receive information from the first contact with an authority
  • make a formal complaint and receive written acknowledgement
  • interpretation and translation (at least during interviews/questioning of the victim)
  • receive information about the case’s progress access victim support services

19 June 2012: EU strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012–2016

The EU strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings identifies 5 priorities for the EU to focus on to address the issue of trafficking in human beings: prevention, protection, prosecution, partnerships and awareness.

It also outlines a number of actions which the European Commission proposes to implement during this period, in concert with other actors, including EU countries, non-EU countries, European External Action Service, EU institutions, EU agencies, international organisations, civil society and the private sector.

5 April 2011: Anti-trafficking directive

Directive 2011/36/EU lays down minimum common rules for determining offences of trafficking in human beings and punishing offenders. It also provides for measures to  prevent this phenomenon and to strengthen the protection of victims.

18 June 2009: Employers Sanctions Directive

Directive 2009/52/EC prohibits the employment of illegally staying third-country nationals in order to fight illegal immigration. To this end, it lays down minimum common standards on sanctions and measures to be applied in the Member States against employers who infringe that prohibition.

29 April 2004: Directive on the residence permit for victims of human trafficking

Directive 2004/81/EC foresees that residence permits of temporary duration may be issued to non-EU nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or subject of an illegal immigration action.

EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator

The position of the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator was established in 2009. The coordinator improves coordination and coherence among EU institutions, EU agencies, Member States and international actors, in the implementation of EU’s strategy on combating trafficking in human beings. 

Myria Vassiliadou served as the first EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator from 2011 until end of February 2020. Olivier Onidi, Deputy Director General of the Directorate General Migration and Home Affairs, served as the acting EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator from March 2020 to June 2021. Diane Schmitt took up the position as EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator on 1 July 2021. For more information visit the:

Networks

Fighting trafficking in human beings is a joint effort amongst a wide range of relevant actors involved at all levels, based on thematic discussions in existing structures and cooperation, including:

In 2017 the Council decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime for the period 2018 – 2021 to tackle the most important threats posed to the EU. Trafficking in human beings remains a priority crime area in the EU Policy cycle for 2018-2021 with the objective “to fight against the trafficking in human beings (THB) in the EU for all forms of exploitation, including sexual and labour exploitation as well as all forms of child trafficking”. EMPACT is a structured multidisciplinary co-operation platform of the Member States, EU institutions and agencies, as well as third countries, international organisations and other (public and private) partners to address the prioritised threats of organised and serious international crime, including trafficking in human beings.

The EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) presents a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime in the EU. The SOCTA 2021 identifies trafficking in human beings as a crime that poses significant threats to EU citizens. The SOCTA report published by Europol every four years is a forward-looking assessment that identifies shifts in the serious and organised crime landscape.

Documents

Related policy initiatives

EU legal and policy anti-trafficking framework

Recent publications

Related links