Reports & Leaflets

No Way Forward, No Going Back

Trafficking; Forced Labour; Slave Labour;

Identifying the problem of trafficking for forced labour in Ireland 


International awareness of the problem of human trafficking has increased, and many reports highlight that it is a growing criminal industry that exploits people and violates basic human rights on a number of levels. Until recently the main concern of research and public opinion has been with the appalling treatment of women trafficked for sexual exploitation. In recent times, however, there appears to have been a growing realisation that men, women and children are trafficked for a variety of purposes including begging, cheap and expendable labour, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) points out that while there is growing international acceptance of the need to combat both of the main forms of trafficking - for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation - very little progress has been made with regard to labour exploitation (ILO 2002, p.3). This is partly due to the difficulty in obtaining reliable data. Wylie (2006) points out difficulties in researching this area such as problems associated with the criminality of the act, the vulnerability of persons trafficked, confusion surrounding defining trafficking, the lack of systematic collection of information and the politics of publishing data. However, these difficulties should not discourage research in this area. To allow this to happen would, according to Wylie (2006), allow trafficking and the human rights abuses connected with it to remain ‘unilluminated and unchecked’.

Human trafficking affects countries throughout the world, as countries of origin, transit, and destination or sometimes a mix of all three. Increasingly in Europe many people end up being trafficked for forced labour as domestic servants, in sweat-shops, on construction sites, in agriculture, in textile and garment factories, in the transport industry and in restaurant chains, on plantations and in mines (Aradau, 2005, p.17). The problem of trafficking for labour exploitation, though little documented or understood, is of increasing importance for Europe.

A focus on trafficking for labour exploitation is strongly emphasised in the European Commission’s 2001 Strategy Paper, which refers specifically to “labour exploitation in conditions akin to slavery”. The EU Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings obliges all EU member States to harmonise their domestic criminal legislation on trafficking by 2004, including adopting a common definition of trafficking consistent with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

This report was prepared arising out of a project that looked into the situation of workers trafficked and exploited in sectors other than the sex industry in four countries (Ireland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the Czech Republic). The project, led by Anti-Slavery International, had the aim to identify and assess other forms of trafficking and to determine as accurately as possible why it is happening. It did not seek to provide definitive answers. Given the limited capacity of the scope of the research, this report aims to provide an impetus for policy-making, to increase discussion of the topic in public and to stimulate further research into the issue.

The results of the study conducted have led to the drafting of recommendations for policy-making, collaborative approaches and law enforcement in this area.

Section two introduces the research methodology and the definitions used in the project. The research uses the internationally recognised United Nations definition of trafficking and the International Labour Organisation definition of forced labour.

Section three provides an overview of the Irish context of trafficking for forced labour, including the legal provision and support mechanisms available.

Section four analyses the findings from the interviews and questionnaires and looks at the issues emerging for migrant workers.

Section five contains three case studies that provide an overview of the experience of trafficking for forced labour from the individual’s perspective. The section concludes with a reference to the human and labour rights abuses experienced by the three individuals.

Section six lists the conclusions and recommendations in order to effectively deal with the issue of trafficking for forced labour and to protect those who find themselves in this situation.

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