Despite the introduction of tough new laws, the number of victims of human trafficking is increasing across the European Union, according to a new report published by the European Commission.
As a result, the Commission has called on EU member states to implement the new rules of the Anti-Trafficking Directive to stop this form of “modern-day slavery” or face sanctions.
According to the report, over 23,000 identified or presumed victims of human trafficking were registered between 2008 and 2010, representing an 18 per cent increase.
During the same time period, however, the number of convictions for human trafficking fell by 13 per cent.
Agreed in 2011, Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims proposes higher penalties for offenders, increased protection for victims and aims to make cross-border prosecution easier.
It also provides a common definition of human trafficking – worth an estimated 2.5 billion euros in Europe alone – to ensure greater equality in the severity of sentencing for the crime across EU territories.
But so far, only six out of the 27 EU member states – Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Hungary, Poland and Sweden – have fully transposed the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive into their national legislation, despite a deadline of 6 April.
Three other countries – Belgium, Lithuania and Slovenia – have reported partial transposition of the directive.
"This is the sad truth," the AFP news agency reported Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.
"Men, women and children are being sold for sex, hard labour...forced into marriages, domestic servitude, begging, or have their organs removed for trade."
"I am very disappointed to see that, despite these alarming trends, only a few countries have implemented the anti-trafficking legislation and I urge those who have not yet done so to respect their obligations."
Malmström added that she would “not hesitate to take the necessary measures to ensure that this is being done."
Most of the victims identified by the report were citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, which are two of the poorest members of the EU.
Outside of Europe, citizens of Nigeria and China make up the biggest number of victims. Eighty per cent of all victims were women and girls.
Nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour, according to 2012 statistics from the International Labour Organisation, with an estimated 1.5 million in developed economies and the EU.
Forced labour and human trafficking are linked because the movement of people for the purpose of forced labour and services usually involves an agent or recruiter, a transporter, and finally, an employer, who derives profit from the exploitation of trafficked persons.
According the Commission report, the majority of trafficking victims are forced into sexual slavery, but also forced labour, criminal activity, organ removal and the selling of children.
There are various initiatives to tackle human trafficking, including the Global Trade Union Alliance to Combat Forced Labour and Trafficking, led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
In order to contribute to the anti-trafficking response, the ITUC also recently started an EU-funded project focused on developing partnerships and identifying new trends in trafficking for labour exploitation.