Comparing statistics from EU member states on trafficking in human beings (THB) can be difficult. Here we summarise some of the findings from 2 Eurostat statistical working papers and an EC Staff Working Document.

Eurostat has published 2 statistical working papers containing statistics from the EU member states on trafficking in human beings, one in 2013, covering the years 2008-2010, and one in 2015, covering the years 2010-2012. In 2016, the European Commission published an ‘interim and simplified collection’ of statistics for the years 2013-2014 in the Staff Working Document accompanying the so-called Progress Report.

The hidden nature of THB for labour exploitation

The statistics of the member states cannot easily be compared, because of issues such as differences in definitions and collection methods. Also, it is difficult to say whether statistics like these represent the real situation, due to the hidden nature of trafficking in human beings.

THB for sexual exploitation generally requires publicity to attract customers, but THB for labour exploitation may be harder to detect. Many victims of THB for labour exploitation work hidden from public view. For example, victims may be confined to hidden locations when working in agriculture, factories or domestic work. But the working papers do give some idea of the situation regarding THB for labour exploitation.

Rise in (registration of) labour trafficking

All member states reported (identified or presumed) victims of THB for sexual exploitation in the periods 2010-2012 and 2013-2014. However, only 20 member states reported victims of THB for labour exploitation in 2012. 6 member  states reported there were no victims of THB for labour exploitation in 2012. This may have been because of limited awareness, reporting or investigation around THB for labour exploitation. In 2014, the number of member states reporting victims of THB for labour exploitation had risen to 25 of the 28.

In 2013-2014, 21% of all registered victims of THB in the EU were victims of THB for labour exploitation. 65% of all victims of THB identified within the European Union are EU citizens (in 2013-2014).

Although THB for the purpose of sexual exploitation is the most prevalent form of trafficking, compared to 2008 the number of victims of labour trafficking has increased. As a percentage of the total number of identified or presumed victims in the EU it changed from 28% in 2008 down to 15% in 2010, and then up again to 20% in 2012 and 21% in 2013-2014. In real terms, the number of (presumed or identified) victims of THB for labour exploitation has gone up and down, though the general trend is still up. It has gone from 900 victims in 2008, up to 1,024 in 2010 and then 1,983 in 2012, and down again to 1,461 in 2014.

This rise may be partly due to the fact that in 2014 more member states were able to provide this data than in 2008 (25 states compared with 16). It may also reflect improvements in identifying cases, because of possible growing awareness about THB for labour exploitation.

Individual member states

The figures about individual member states in the Eurostat working paper vary substantially. In most countries, victims of sexual exploitation make up the largest group of identified and/or presumed victims. In some countries however, the majority of identified and/or presumed victims are victims of THB for labour exploitation. In 2014 this was the case in Belgium, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Poland and the UK.

For example, in the UK victims of sexual exploitation used to make up the largest group of possible victims. However, for the year 2014 (January to December) victims of THB for labour exploitation outnumbered victims of sexual exploitation for the first time. Possible victims of labour exploitation and domestic servitude make up 47% (1,093) of all (2,340) possible victims referred to the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014. Victims of sexual exploitation make up 36% (830).

The National Referral Mechanism Statistics - End of Year Summary 2014 can be found on the website of the National Crime Agency.

Investigations and prosecutions

15 member states could provide data on prosecutions during 2010-2012 by form of exploitation. All 15 reported that there had been prosecutions for THB for sexual exploitation. Only 7 member states reported prosecutions for THB for labour exploitation.

When it comes to EU cooperation against THB for labour exploitation, 5% of the contributions on THB to Europol’s Focal Point Phoenix in 2014 concerned labour exploitation. Of the 71 THB cases registered by Eurojust in 2014, 12 (17%) were cases of labour exploitation.

Study on case-law

In 2015, the European Commission published a study on case-law relating to THB for labour exploitation in member states during the period 2009-2013. The study illustrates that in many countries the fight against THB for labour exploitation still seems less advanced than that against THB for sexual exploitation.

The study only found a limited number of cases from the reference period. In 11 member states, less than 6 cases per member state were identified from this period; in 6 member states, no case-law was identified at all. The study suggests these low numbers could be due to either a low level of prosecution or difficulties in accessing case-law.

Read more about the Study on case-law.

Download the documents

* As a percentage of the total number of identified or presumed victims in the EU.