Written by Martina Prpic (updated on 19.06.2023)
In December 2022, the European Commission presented a proposal to review Directive 2011/36/EU to strengthen the rules on combating trafficking in human beings and to better protect victims. Despite some progress achieved in recent years, it is estimated that over 7 000 people become victims of human trafficking in the EU on an annual basis, although the figure could be much higher because many victims remain undetected.
Human trafficking is not only a serious and borderless crime, but also a lucrative business, driven by demand for sexual (and other) services. Criminals exploit vulnerable people (increasingly children), making high profits and taking relatively low risks. Vulnerability can result from a whole range of factors, including socio-economic ones, and migrants are a particularly vulnerable group.
Gender also plays an important part, as women and men are not trafficked in the same way or for the same purpose. Women and girls represent a disproportionately high number of victims, both globally and at EU level, especially in terms of sexual exploitation. This form of exploitation is still dominant in the EU, even though other forms are on the rise, such as exploitation for forced labour and for criminal activities.
The COVID‑19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have brought new challenges for victims, as well as amplifying the vulnerabilities of those most at risk. Traffickers – like legal businesses – have increasingly moved to digital modi operandi. In its efforts to eradicate human trafficking, the EU has not only created a legal framework, comprising an anti-trafficking directive and instruments to protect victims’ rights and prevent labour exploitation; it has also put in place an operational cooperation network involving decentralised EU agencies, including Europol, Eurojust, CEPOL and Frontex. Moreover, trafficking in human beings is a priority in the EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime. The European Parliament plays a major role, not only in designing policies but also in evaluating their implementation.
This is an update of a briefing written by Piotr Bąkowski and Sofija Voronova in 2021.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Understanding EU action against human trafficking‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Understanding EU action against human trafficking’ on YouTube.