Belgrade hosts regional conference on combating human trafficking for labor exploitation, testimonies of victims heard
At the Belgrade regional conference which opened today, the European Union and the Council of Europe stressed the importance of recognizing the risk factors of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and to develop coherent prevention strategies.
More than 100 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia, other countries and international organizations, gathered during the two days conference “Combating labor trafficking in Europe – standards, realities and new strategies for action” discuss strategies for combating trafficking in human beings for the purpose of exploitation, a crime that affects an increasing number of women, men and children, both transnationally and within the same country.
Petya Nestorova, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human BeingsUnderline: “Poverty, unemployment and a growing informal economy, as well as the demand for cheap labor and services, are factors that lead to labor trafficking. There is a growing trend of recruiting victims via social media and the internet. There is an urgent need to tackle the growing threat of labor trafficking, and the Council of Europe is currently preparing a new recommendation to its 46 member states which contains a comprehensive set of measures to prevent and combat trafficking labor. Among these measures is the extension of the scope of labor protection to all sectors of the economy, including the informal economy and undocumented workers. Businesses also have an important role to play in identifying and addressing human trafficking risks throughout their operations and supply chains.”
Diane Schmitt, European Union Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, underlined that labor exploitation has always been the second main form of exploitation in the European Union and that almost 30% of registered victims are victims of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. “At EU level, we aim to tackle labor exploitation with a comprehensive approach, which ranges from prevention to investigation and prosecution of traffickers, while protecting victims at all stages,” said said Schmitt. “Almost half of the victims in the European Union come from third countries. We believe that this comprehensive approach can be effective and fruitful also beyond the European Union“, she explained.”Cooperation with our neighbours, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as with international and regional organizations, such as the Council of Europe, is crucial to strengthen our common global effortconcluded Schmitt.
“The Council of Europe constantly monitors and considers almost all societal processes from the perspective of respect for human rights, to which Serbia is also committed. Transforming human beings into merchandise, into objects, exchanging them as if slavery had never been abolished, places before all of us the enormous task of helping these people and punishing those responsible for their misfortunes.“, said Gordana Comic, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of the Republic of Serbia.
The conference took stock of trends and challenges in trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and identified positive initiatives to strengthen prevention from a victim-centred perspective. The role of labor market and private sector actors, as well as how to overcome barriers to victims’ access to justice and effective remedies, were among the topics discussed.
Although the number of cases identified in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia is low, in practice the scope of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation is much wider, with many cases remaining not reported. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, only eight potential victims were identified during the period 2017-2021. Only 3 victims were identified in North Macedonia between 2017 and 2020 and another 39 from Taiwan were detected in 2021. Over the five-year period, the number of identified victims was highest in Serbia, 41 in total, most of whom were Serbs, despite the growing presence of migrant workers in the country.
New studies on labor trafficking in the three countries were presented at the conference. The studies examine risk factors contributing to trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, including unemployment, ethnic discrimination, a large informal economy and the large influx of migrants and refugees. The proposals for action contained in the studies should guide the national authorities in adopting new prevention strategies.
Former victims of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and applicants to the European Court of Human Rights, Seudin Zoletić and Marko Tamindžija from Bosnia and Herzegovina, shared their traumatic experience in Azerbaijan and the steps they have undertaken to obtain justice.
The conference was organized within the framework of cooperation actions on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia, within the framework of the European Union/Council of Europe Joint Program Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019 – 2022.