Press Centre

Strong Action Required to Combat Slavery in Ireland


Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), together with victims of slavery in Ireland and EU experts including Dr. Philipp Schwertmann (Trade Union Federation of Berlin-Brandenburg), today held a high level meeting in Dublin to discuss the increasing problem of slavery in Irish society.

This meeting came on foot of the report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Ireland’s progress in tackling human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery. The report highlighted the need to increase ‘the number of victims identified and supported, and the number of cases prosecuted especially in the field of labour exploitation.’ [1]

Gráinne O’Toole of MRCI stated, “Over recent weeks we have heard the heart-rending testimony of victims of slavery in the Magdalene Laundries. Their long struggle for justice has finally been recognised. However, slavery remains a reality in Ireland. MRCI have uncovered over 180 cases of slavery in domestic, restaurant, agricultural, construction and entertainment sectors. It is imperative that we act to root out slavery, past and present in Ireland.”

Mariaam Bhatti, a victim of slavery in Ireland, said, “I suffered at the hands of my employer. I was treated as a slave. My passport was taken, I was not paid for my work, I was not allowed to go out of the house and I was threatened. I still have not found justice. My fear is that the authorities do not fully understand the modern day phenomenon and therefore they are unable to protect us.”

John Douglas, General Secretary of Mandate and Vice-President of ICTU stated, “We welcome the proposal by the government to bring forward a law to criminalise all forms of modern-day slavery. This sends a strong message to employers that inhuman treatment of workers will not be tolerated. This law needs to be monitored to ensure that victims of slavery are identified and steps need to be taken to ensure the phenomenon is clearly understood by the authorities.”

Dr. Philipp Schwertmann, Trade Union Federation of Berlin-Brandenburg stated, “Trade unions are at the heart of the struggle of combating forced labour and trafficking. Trade unions and the state - including the Labour Inspectorate - have a responsibility to act, plan and organise for the eradication of slavery once and for all.”


Background Information:

Forced labour (modern-day slavery) is a growing problem in Ireland. It is an extreme form of exploitation and involves deception, coercion, threats or actual physical harm, and debt bondage. MRCI have dealt with over 180 cases of forced labour over the last 6 years.

People subjected to forced labour and slave-like conditions are not fully recognised as victims of a crime, and the perpetrators of forced labour are not criminalised by the Irish State. When the proposed law is implemented, perpetrators of forced labour could face maximum sentences of up to life imprisonment.

[1] OSCE Report prepared by Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Maria  Grazia Giammarinaro, February 2013