Specialised teams of labour inspectors (Belgium)

Belgium has specialised teams called ECOSOC teams of inspectors who have been trained in detecting situations of possible trafficking and labour exploitation. The ECOSOC inspectors have a mandate to investigate trafficking in human beings (THB) for labour exploitation. ECOSOC team leaders are the single points of contact (SPOCs) for other professionals like local police and social or labour inspectorates in all situations involving labour exploitation.

The teams have a thorough knowledge of THB legislation. They know about the relevant indicators and know the procedure for referring possible victims to a referral centre. Also, they have a network of relevant actors that can intervene in THB investigations. ECOSOC teams report timely to the (labour) prosecutor on their findings.

In the field of labour exploitation, the Social Inspectorate’s role has evolved from assisting the police to increasingly taking the lead of the investigation. This is because of their mandate and their expertise and experience in the field. The inspectorate has made this kind of investigations one of its main focuses. It has created specialised units and trained inspectors.

Often, inspectors are the first to be confronted with situations of labour exploitation, because they have large investigating powers. Inspectors have the power to enter any workplace day and night without prior notice and without a warrant. They can also enter private houses with a warrant issued by a judge when they have indications that people are being put to work there.

What makes this approach successful?

The number of investigations by ECOSOC inspectors and of reports to the prosecutor on labour exploitation has risen in the past years. Investigating cases of THB for the purpose of labour exploitation is a strategic and operational priority for the Social Inspectorate. This has enabled the specialisation of a number of agents. These specialised agents combine efforts with police and operate in (small) local networks consisting of THB specialists in other domains: the police, the THB prosecutor, referral centres, and the Immigration Office. These circles of experts know and trust each other, which makes it easier to cooperate effectively.