The European Commission focuses on reforming its Anti-Trafficking Directive and promotes the incorporation of more efficient rules in the face of its evolving dynamics.
The European Commission (EC) is in the process of updating regulations aimed at preventing and combating human trafficking. Human trafficking is an international crime that affects all EU Member States and is a continuing threat, despite the progress that has been made in recent years.
Directive 2011/36 – which addresses human trafficking – has been the pillar on which the EU has based its efforts to prevent and combat this crime since 2011.
This directive has served as a solid legal framework for a robust criminal justice response, as well as ensuring high standards of victim protection and support. However, exploitation modalities have undergone significant changes in recent years, indicating the imperative need for a revision and updating of the text to address the evolving dynamics of this phenomenon.
In April 2021, the EC introduced the European Union Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025). One of the fundamental actions outlined in this strategy was the evaluation and revision of this Directive.
The evaluation highlighted the overall effectiveness of the Directive in contributing to the fight against human trafficking. This regulation has established a common basis for dealing with this crime, promoting the harmonization of national legislation among the Member States. Even so, shortcomings were identified, especially in areas such as the application of the principles of non-prosecution and non-punishment of victims, protection during criminal proceedings, the provision of assistance and support services tailored to the specific needs of particularly vulnerable victims, and access to compensation.
In December 2022, the EC actually proposed a reform of the Anti-Trafficking Directive, with a view to strengthening the rules preventing and combating trafficking in human beings. The updated regulations are intended to provide more robust tools for law enforcement and judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute new forms of exploitation. This includes considering the conscious use of services provided by victims of human trafficking as a crime in itself. The Commission’s proposal also introduces mandatory sanctions targeting not only individuals, but also companies, in relation to trafficking offenses. In addition, it seeks to improve early identification and victim support procedures in the Member States, with special attention to the creation of a European referral mechanism.
It is considered that the modalities of exploitation have undergone significant changes in recent years and the crime of trafficking is progressively adopting a digital dimension. This transformation imposes the need to implement new measures at EU level, as traffickers find opportunities to recruit, control, transport and exploit victims in the digital realm. In addition, this development facilitates the transfer of profits and allows traffickers to reach users both inside and outside Europe.
According to the Commission, more than 7,000 people are victims of human trafficking in the EU each year , although it is presumed that this figure is considerably higher, given the existence of many undetected victims. The majority of victims are women and girls, but there is an increase in the proportion of male victims, especially in the context of labor exploitation.
At EspañaAccording to the Statistical Balance 2018-2022 on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings (prepared by the Intelligence Center against Terrorism and Organized Crime), in 2022, a total of 6,655 people were identified as being in a situation of human trafficking. risk of trafficking and sexual exploitationl, which represents a 41.48% increase compared to the previous year. Likewise, 15,711 workers were registered as potential victims of trafficking and/or labor exploitation, showing an increase of 13.55% compared to 2021.
The Government of Spain has submitted to the Spanish Parliament a legislative initiative intended to be processed as a bill. This is a Integral Organic Law Against Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings designed to comprehensively address the prevention of exploitation and trafficking in persons. The main focus of this initiative is to provide protective care to the most vulnerable people, especially women and defenseless minors, who are exposed to labor and sexual exploitation, as well as organ trafficking.
The draft bill includes the establishment of new rights for victims such as immediate identification and counseling, the creation of a state coordination mechanism, new types of crimes such as forced labor, servitude, slavery and all forms of forced subjection to exploitation. Another key feature of this draft bill is the recognition of the labor and economic rights of the victims once they have been identified. This aspect underscores the commitment to provide not only protection, but also the possibility of restoring the fundamental rights of those who have been trafficked.
In short, this preliminary draft has some points in common with the modification of the Directive proposed by the EC. In addition, among other measures, the EC has proposed:
- Explicit reference to human trafficking crimes perpetrated or facilitated through the use of information and communication technologies, specifically covering the Internet and social networks;
- The establishment of mandatory penalties for legal persons found responsible for human trafficking offenses. These sanctions include exclusion from public benefits and the possibility of temporary or permanent closure of establishments in which the crime of trafficking has been perpetrated (this approach seeks not only to hold the individuals involved accountable, but also to actively dissuade businesses from engaging in activities linked to human trafficking).
- Forced marriage and illegal adoption are among the types of exploitation defined by the Directive. This will force Spain to make a regulatory modificationArticle 177 bis of the Penal Code criminalizes trafficking in human beings, including the celebration of forced marriages, but illegal adoption is not expressly mentioned, so this article should be amended to criminalize this new purpose of exploitation.
In conclusion, the EC has upped the ante in the fight against human trafficking by amending its directive. This significant step underscores the EU’s commitment to effectively eradicate this scourge and protect the fundamental rights of those who are most vulnerable. However, the success of these measures will depend on a comprehensive approach that includes public awareness, training of professionals and continued international collaboration.
Javier Graña, FIBGAR collaborator.