Understanding EU action against human trafficking

Briefing 25-05-2021

On 14 April 2021, the European Commission presented its new 2021-2025 strategy on combating trafficking in human beings – 10 years after the adoption of Directive 2011/36/EU, the core EU instrument addressing this phenomenon and protecting its victims. Despite some progress achieved in recent years, a number of challenges still lie ahead. 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 has brought new challenges for victims, as well as amplifying the vulnerabilities of those most at risk. Traffickers – like legal businesses – moved to digital modi operandi, making victims even less visible and less able to ask for help and protection. 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 EU decentralised agencies, including Europol, Eurojust, CEPOL and Frontex. Moreover, trafficking in human beings is a priority of 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.