EU tools and networks

There are many instruments available to EU member states to fight and prevent THB for labour exploitation, and several meetings in which THB is discussed. In order to effectively address THB for labour exploitation, it is important that the member states’ ministries and implementing bodies make optimal use of these instruments and networks. The most relevant ones are listed here.

On this page:

  • General EU instruments
  • EU instruments for law enforcement cooperation

General EU instruments regarding THB

The informal network of National Rapporteurs and/or Equivalent Mechanisms

Following Council Conclusions, an informal EU network of National Rapporteurs and/or Equivalent Mechanisms was established in 2009. Rapporteurs and representatives of the equivalent mechanisms of the member states meet twice a year to discuss the latest developments in the field of combating THB. The aim of the network is to improve the understanding of the phenomenon of THB and to provide the Union and its member states with objective, reliable, comparable and up-to-date strategic information.

Civil Society Platform and e-Platform

In 2013, the European Commission launched the EU Civil Society Platform against trafficking in human beings. The platform serves as a forum for selected civil society organisations working at European, national and local levels, in the field of human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights and gender equality, migrants’ rights and shelters. Every year, the Commission organises two meetings. The meetings can be used to exchange experiences and ideas on how to best assist victims, expand the NGOs’ networks, and prevent others from falling victims to this crime.

The EU Civil Society e-Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings is a space for discussion, sharing of information, exchanging good practices, and linking organisations providing services and assistance to victims. It is aimed at ensuring a regular dialogue amongst civil society organisations working on THB.

EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings (2012-2016)

In addition to legislation, the European Commission has also drawn up a policy document on THB. The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings (2012-2016) focuses on concrete actions that will support and complement the implementation of the anti-trafficking directive.

The fourth action in the EU strategy outlines the actions on THB for labour exploitation. The European Commission targets THB for labour exploitation by:

  • funding a study of case-law in all member states to increase the number of cases of THB for labour exploitation that are investigated and prosecuted and to improve the quality of the investigation and prosecution of such cases. The case-law study was published on 20 October 2015.
  • developing a best practice guide for public authorities on the monitoring and enforcement of temporary work agencies and intermediary agencies such as job recruitment agencies to prevent trafficking in human beings; Eurofound is coordinating EU-wide research into how labour market intermediaries (LMIs) are regulated to avoid unlawful recruitment and exploitative working conditions. The Eurofound report also looks at the role the social partners play in helping to prevent trafficking of workers.
  • strengthening cooperation with labour, social, health and safety inspectors, as well as fisheries inspectors, in relation to the identification and referral of victims of human trafficking and in raising awareness and training.

In the European Agenda on Security, published in April 2015, the European Commission writes that it intends to develop a post-2016 strategy. You can read the EU Strategy 2012-2016 on the website of the European Commission.

Website ‘Together against Trafficking in Human Beings’

The Commission has a website called ‘Together against Trafficking in Human Beings’, which includes information on for example EU legislation, EU policy, the activities of EU member states and EU activities in third countries. It is aimed at both practitioners and the general public.

EU instruments for law enforcement cooperation

EMPACT THB

EMPACT (the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Crime Threats) THB is a multilateral operational cooperation platform of 25 EU member states, Switzerland, Europol, Eurojust, CEPOL, Frontex and Interpol. EMPACT THB coordinates the efforts of EU member states in the fight against trafficking in human beings at EU level. As part of EMPACT, various meetings are organised to promote cooperation, share knowledge, discuss strategies and actual cases for joint investigations.

The aim of EMPACT THB is:

‘to disrupt organised criminal groups involved in intra-EU human trafficking and human trafficking from the most prevalent external source countries for the purposes of labour exploitation and sexual exploitation; including those groups using Legal Business Structures to facilitate or disguise their criminal activities.’

The fight against THB for labour exploitation is one of the actions in the Operational Action Plan (OAP) of EMPACT THB. The EMPACT meetings on THB for labour exploitation, of which the first one was held in July 2015, are intended to facilitate the implementation of this action. Both police officers and labour inspectors take part.

The EMPACT projects were set up to implement the nine priorities for the fight against organised crime in the period 2014-2017. These priorities were established by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in 2013, within the framework of the EU policy cycle. The priorities were chosen on the basis of Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA). EMPACT THB is supported by Europol’s Focal Point Phoenix (see below).

Joint Investigation Teams (JITs)

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is a team set up on the basis of an agreement between the competent authorities of two or more member states, for a specific purpose and a limited period. The aim of a JIT is to carry out criminal investigations in one or more of the participating member states.

Members of a JIT are usually prosecutors and law enforcement officers. The team is led by a person from the member state in which the JIT operates. The members carry out their tasks under the leadership of the JIT leader. The JIT members take into account the conditions set by their own authorities in the JIT agreement and the national laws of the territory in which the investigation takes place.

A JIT offers the possibility to quickly share information, including evidence to be used in court, and to request investigative measures between JIT members without the need for a formal request for mutual legal assistance. Seconded members of the of the JIT are entitled to be present during house searches, interviews, and so on, in the member state of operation. This could for example help to overcome language barriers with victims. A JIT can help to optimise the investigation and prosecution strategies and can contribute to the mutual trust between authorities of the member states.

Eurojust can provide a financial contribution to set up a JIT. It also hosts the secretariat of the Network of National Experts on Joint Investigation Teams (JITs Network) that was established in July 2005.

The possibility of setting up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) between member states is provided for in Article 13 of the 2000 EU Mutual Legal Assistance Convention (Council Act 2000/C197/01) and in the 2002 Framework Decision on joint investigation teams (Council Framework Decision 202/465/JHA).

Further information on JITs:

  • The Joint Investigation Manual by Europol and Eurojust
  • Model Agreement for setting up a JIT: Council Resolution of 26 February 2010 on a Model Agreement for setting up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), OJ C 70, p. 1
  • More information on JIT funding by Eurojust.

Coordination meetings at Eurojust

Coordination meetings organised by Eurojust are vital tools for national prosecutors and investigators in cross-border cases. These meetings bring together both law enforcement and judicial authorities from member states and third states involved in the case, as well as representatives from other relevant EU partners (for example Europol).

The meetings offer the opportunity to all the representatives from the authorities involved to personally meet each other and build a solid working relationship. Coordination meetings are planned by Eurojust to provide for the exchange of information on linked investigations and for coordinating operational action.

Eurojust offers its facilities, as well as accommodation and travel reimbursement, translation services and expertise in judicial criminal matters to national authorities. Eurojust can facilitate and coordinate criminal cases from the beginning of an investigation up until the final court decision.

Read more about Eurojust.

Operational meetings at Europol

Europol facilitates operational meetings between member states to discuss cooperation on criminal investigations. During these meetings, investigators from different member states can share operational and strategic information related to cross-border investigations.

Investigators can define strategies to enhance results and tackle Organised Criminal Groups (OCG’s) active in more than one member state, for example through parallel investigations or JITs. In addition to criminal investigation services such as the police, labour inspectorates can also be invited to these meetings.

Read more about Europol.

Focal Point Phoenix

Focal Point (FP) Phoenix is an operational project within Europol that focuses on trafficking in human beings. Its purpose is to support member states’ competent authorities in preventing and combating all forms of criminality within Europol’s mandate associated with THB.

The support that FP Phoenix provides to national law enforcement authorities ranges from logistical and operational assistance during live investigations, to the collection of information and intelligence from the member states’ and other associates’ law enforcement agencies, and strategic analysis.

Data can be supplied to FP Phoenix by the Europol National Units (part of member states’ police forces). Depending on the urgency, data can also be supplied directly by the designated competent authorities. Only Europol’s analysts are authorised to input data into FP Phoenix and to modify such data. All participants in the analysis group may retrieve data from it. The data may include personal data, such as: information on the residence, ID, physical description and finances of the suspect, contacts with individuals or companies and previous convictions. Data on victims and witnesses may also be included.

When data is included in FP Phoenix, automatic cross-checks are carried out, which could reveal links with cases in other member states. If such links exist, member states could decide to coordinate their cases or to set up a joint investigation. Europol’s analysts can also analyse the information provided and advise the member states on how to proceed with the case. The analysts could for example map the structure of the criminal organisation, provide an overview of the main players and investigate financial transactions.

Since its opening in 2007, FP Phoenix has received an increased number of contributions from its operational partners every year. This results in a significant increase in the assistance provided by Europol to law enforcement authorities of member states. The assistance is provided particularly in terms of organisation, facilitation and financial support to operational meetings, sharing of analytical reports, and giving on-the-spot assistance during operational actions through the deployment of mobile offices and Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFEDs).

Focal Point Sustrans

Focal point Sustrans is Europol’s operational platform dedicated to support member states with on-going cases regarding money laundering. FP Sustrans is allowed to receive, process and analyse information that is related to Suspicious Transaction/Activity Reports (STRs) filled with reports of the national Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs). These reports focus on cash detections (usually dealt with by customs) and on-going money laundering cross-border investigations across the EU and beyond.

All data submitted to FP Sustrans is compared with Europol’s databases, including open sources, in order to identify possible cross-links with other investigations. Also, FP Sustrans can provide more tailored operational support and advice to member states on identifying and disrupting money laundering and other serious forms of international financial crimes.

EIS: Europol Information System

The Europol Information System (EIS) is Europol’s central criminal information and intelligence database covering all of Europol’s mandated crime areas. It is a reference system that makes it possible for Europol and member states to quickly verify whether information on a certain person or another object of interest (such as a car, telephone or email address) is available in other member states, cooperation partners or at Europol. The purpose is to look for matches with the aim of enhancing intelligence and providing new leads for further investigations.

Since the EIS is a reference system, the data that can be included is more limited than the data that can be included in FP Phoenix (see above). Data on suspects can be included, but data on victims, witnesses, contacts or associates cannot. The types of personal data that can be included in the EIS are also more limited.

As a general rule, Europol and the Europol National Units of the member states may directly put data into the EIS and access the data stored in it. Access to information in the EIS may be limited by the owner of the information on a case-by-case basis. The EIS interface supports 23 languages, allowing users to work with the system in their own language.

SIENA: Secure Information Exchange Network Application

SIENA is Europol’s secure and user-friendly communication and message exchange system. It is used to manage the exchange of operational and strategic crime-related information and intelligence amongst member states, Europol and Europol’s cooperation partners. Member states for example use SIENA to supply data to FP Phoenix (see above).

Europol Platform for Experts (EPE)

The Europol Platform for Experts (EPE) is a secure web platform to share knowledge, best practices and non-personal data on crime. The EPE hosts a variety of online communities dedicated to specific fields of law enforcement, including one dedicated to THB. The EPE has several functionalities, such as a library (for manuals, best practices and so on), a message forum, a calendar (which includes meetings and conferences), a wiki and a blog.

Access to a specific online expert community is granted by invitation only and to authorised experts in the field. Authorised users range from closed groups of law enforcement officials to large informal networks of contacts, including non-law enforcement officials, experts from academia and the private sector. It may be worthwhile to find out if labour inspectors could join the EPE to share knowledge on THB for labour exploitation.