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Expert Voice Blog Series: Future Priorities for Anti-Trafficking in the EU

25 October 2016

Trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation in agriculture is one of several high-risk sectors in the EU where trafficking may occur.

18 October 2016 was the 10th EU Anti-Trafficking Day. In a three-part blog series, ICMPD analysed challenges and future priorities for the EU and its Member States in combating trafficking in human beings. In view of the forthcoming EU Anti-Trafficking Strategy, we're looking at current anti-trafficking efforts in the context of global migration trends and policies, asking the question of how current debates might shape anti-trafficking in the coming years.

This blog series was composed by ICMPD’s Anti-Trafficking Competence Centre and Research Unit:

William Huddleston, Claire Healy, Madalina Rogoz, Albert Kraler, Elisa Trossero and Martijn Pluim.

The views expressed here are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of ICMPD.


The final article in our blog series on Future Priorities for Anti-Trafficking in the EU examines the concept of “demand” in the context of trafficking, and considers some of the key points policy makers need to consider when designing policies intended to address demand for services or goods that involve trafficking in their provision or production. The examples here refer to situations of trafficking for labour exploitation. 


Addressing demand: A useful concept in the context of trafficking in human beings? 


by Albert Kraler & Madalina Rogoz

An unclear legal obligation

In policy debates on combating trafficking in human beings (THB), “addressing demand” and “demand-side measures” are often used more as buzzwords than as consistent or coherent concepts. Article 18 of the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive makes it a legal obligation for states to discourage and reduce “the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation related to trafficking in human beings”. Yet how “demand” should be understood is not expanded upon further, nor is any suggestion provided for how it is to be addressed. Unsurprisingly, given this lack of legal guidance, few EU countries have explicitly defined demand or developed specific policies to address it. This is among the findings of research conducted within the ICMPD-led project “Addressing Demand in Anti-Trafficking Efforts and Policies” (DemandAT), funded by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Research.

In this article, we argue that a coherent conceptual understanding of demand-side measures is a necessary precondition for effective and targeted interventions. Reference to demand in the context of different forms of trafficking should be as clear as possible, specifying how addressing demand in a particular market is expected to address trafficking or related exploitation.

What does "demand" actually mean? 

In expert debates, there is little consensus around the meaning of demand in the context of trafficking. One line of thinking links it to core economic market logics of supply and demand, basically understanding it to refer to the demand side of a market. Yet it is often left unclear which particular market is the focus of the analysis and certain social actors are then systematically attributed in a blanket fashion to either the demand side or the supply side, without considering what is actually being traded, who is demanding a particular good or service and who is supplying it. 

Alternatively, demand is often used vaguely as a metaphor to denote broader “root causes” of trafficking, such as social norms and values, including prejudice and racism. These are seen as making it acceptable for individuals to exploit others or to accept exploitative practices by others. Furthermore, because of divergent views on how to best conceptualise demand, “demand-side measures” is used as a loosely-defined label for interventions targeting a diverse group of actors. This group may include exploiters and traffickers, firms - both as employers and as purchasers of goods and services that may be produced under conditions of THB, notably within supply chains - consumers and the wider public. This approach was taken for example by a recent Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) paper on “Preventing trafficking by addressing demand”.

The usefulness of a demand-side analysis

These differing approaches and uses of “demand” raise questions about the usefulness of the concept. So what, if any, is its added value? First, a demand-side analysis can potentially expand the focus from covering only trafficked people to include other actors with varying degrees of responsibility for trafficking, such as companies or consumers. Second, if used as a clearly defined concept, the notion of demand can indeed help to formulate policies that may reduce the incidence of THB and/or exploitation more generally. Demand-side measures are therefore best viewed as indirect measures that complement rather than replace other areas of intervention, such as victim protection, building the resilience of vulnerable people and criminal justice.

Policies addressing demand also move beyond the traditional confines of anti-trafficking. Indeed, when demand-side policies in selected EU and non-EU countries were mapped in the framework of the DemandAT project, it emerged that most existing demand-side policies have a broader scope than just combating THB, and tend to focus more generally on an exploitative purpose.

Addressing demand in the context of labour exploitation: influencing the behaviour of consumers and clients

The DemandAT study posits an economic understanding of demand, and recommends a more targeted use of the concept: demand-side policies should be understood as policies that aim to influence the behaviour of consumers in a particular market, including private firms and the public sector purchasing goods or services. Narrowing our understanding to interventions targeting consumers of goods and clients of services will make policies more coherent and effective. It also highlights the potential of policy approaches that use non-coercive means and market incentives to change undesirable behaviours. For example, a number of policy measures and initiatives can already be identified that may discourage trafficking for labour exploitation, by influencing consumer behaviour in a specific market setting. 

In addition to more traditional “command and control” policies that impose sanctions for non-compliance, the behaviour of consumers or clients can also be influenced by positive incentives to take certain actions. Examples of incentive-based policies include: tax breaks; educating the general public on labour exploitation; the use of licensing as a regulatory measure; certification schemes and related supply chain initiatives; the inclusion of criteria on compliance with decent work standards in procurement rules for public and private entities; and restricting access to a particular good or service in such a way that only goods and services produced under conditions of decent work are available.

"Smart” regulation, combined with the cooperation of relevant stakeholders in specific contexts and sectors prone to trafficking and labour exploitation, is also an effective approach to addressing the demand-side of trafficking. Examples of such initiatives include the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Programme. Often, as in the case of the Fair Food Programme, such initiatives also closely cooperate with law enforcement and thus are embedded in traditional criminal justice approaches.

The future of addressing the demand side of trafficking 

Looking to the future, a number of key points should be taken into account. A demand-side approach can effectively contribute to the fight against trafficking in human beings. However, in order to achieve the desired results, policy makers must:

  • Promote and apply a clear and coherent concept of demand and demand-side policies in the context of trafficking, including by specifying how exactly particular measures will address demand in the context of THB;
  • Clearly specify which forms of exploitation and which markets are being targeted when attempting to reduce demand for goods or services involving trafficking;
  • Set out concrete guidelines for policies addressing demand for goods or services involving trafficking, including an overview of the various legislative, regulatory and voluntary measures available. 
Find the most recent publications on this topic at: and





Using the existing architecture to combat trafficking: Frameworks for Anti-Trafficking Action 


This week, on EU Anti-Trafficking Day (18 October), the second article in our blog series looks at the wider significance of the proposed global compact for migration, what international frameworks are available for combating trafficking in human beings (THB), and how states can make the most of these opportunities for international cooperation to combat trafficking within their own jurisdictions and as part of wider development cooperation.

Most countries recognise that action to combat trafficking in human beings must extend beyond their national boundaries, acknowledging that the trafficking crime takes place across borders, as well as within the same country or region.

In order to maximise the impact of international cooperation to combat trafficking, states should focus on two key aspects: (1) awareness and understanding of the national, regional and global frameworks that exist and of how to use them; and (2) the need to ensure a coherent approach to combating trafficking across all of these frameworks.

The legal instruments governing international cooperation against trafficking include the UN Anti Trafficking Protocol, and at a regional level in Europe, the Council of Europe Convention Against Trafficking and the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive. In addition to these legal instruments, international cooperation against trafficking is guided by policy frameworks and initiatives, with various geographic scopes. 


The fight against trafficking as a global commitment 

Global frameworks provide an overarching structure, generally applicable to all Member States of the UN, to align priorities and work in partnership with other state and non-state actors pursuing the same objectives. The most recent examples include the New York Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The New York Declaration, signed on 19 September of this year, prepares the ground for developing a global compact for migration, and a comprehensive refugee response. The Declaration represents a change in thinking, an agreement that the global community has to respond as a whole, wherever a crisis situation emerges. The Declaration also contains commitments on preventing and identifying trafficking, supporting trafficked people, and addressing vulnerabilities to trafficking among migrants and refugees. Also at a global level, the inclusion of commitments on combating trafficking in the SDGs adopted in 2015, to be achieved by 2030 (SDGs 5.2, 8.7, 16.2), places the fight against trafficking in the context of overall human development objectives. 

As a vehicle for turning words into action, the Alliance 8.7 initiative, led by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and supported by ICMPD, is an example of the concrete implementation of these commitments. Alliance 8.7 provides a platform for states to pool resources and expertise to achieve SDG 8.7 on forced labour, modern slavery, trafficking, worst forms of child labour, and child labour in all its forms. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also developed a Global Plan of Action on Trafficking in 2010, and an initiative on Global Action against trafficking and migrant smuggling (GLO-ACT).


Dialogue and action: The EU and its partner countries and regions

Similarly, at an EU level, policies and dialogues are in place to complement the relevant legal instruments. Migration dialogues typically focus on significant migratory routes and cover the full range of migration policy issues, including combating THB. Dialogues provide a platform for EU Member States and countries from specific regions to work together, with action plans and allocated financial resources. Migration dialogues allow countries of origin, transit and destination to exchange information and form partnerships in a neutral setting. There are opportunities for EU Member States to carry out anti-trafficking activities in East and Horn of Africa (Khartoum Process), Central and West Africa (Rabat Process), African Union countries (Valletta Action Plan), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Prague Process) and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and the Silk Routes region (Budapest Process). In addition, regional networks, such as the Brdo Process Network of Anti-Trafficking Coordinators from South East Europe play an important role in strengthening regional cooperation against trafficking among EU and non-EU countries in that region, as well as cooperating with neighbouring regions. 

The EU’s guiding principles and objectives for anti-trafficking in non-EU countries (“third countries”) are set out in the 2009 Action Oriented Paper on strengthening the EU external dimension against trafficking. In addition, the EU’s THB Strategy (2012- 16) focuses on strengthening cooperation between EU and non-EU countries, developing a list of priority third countries, partnerships with international organisations and funding anti-trafficking projects in non-EU countries and regions. The priority list of third countries allows for the alignment of bilateral priorities among EU Member States. This is located within the broader framework of the EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, and the 2015 EU Agenda on Migration and its New Partnership Framework for cooperation with third countries, all of which also contain commitments and measures on anti-trafficking. 


Bilateral cooperation along trafficking routes

On the EU bilateral level, specific frameworks for transnational cooperation, such as Mobility Partnerships and Common Agendas for Migration and Mobility, set the foundations for bilateral cooperation between the EU and its partner countries on mobility and migration, including trafficking. A good example is the JEMPAS project, funded by the EU and implemented by ICMPD, designed to provide support to the Jordanian government in two key areas: outreach to and engagement with Jordanian expatriates; and preventing trafficking in human beings.

Along with these global and regional frameworks and tools for international cooperation, individual states may also establish bilateral cooperation with relevant countries in terms of the incidence of trafficking cases, such as between: the UK and Nigeria; the Netherlands and Nigeria; Italy and Albania; Greece and Albania; and the Czech Republic and Ukraine, among others.


Looking to the future

Global, regional, multilateral and bilateral cooperation in the fight against THB is set to become increasingly relevant, both as an aspect of development cooperation and humanitarian action, and as a key element of national and regional anti-trafficking efforts. An international approach to trafficking, within the broader migration framework, should be understood as a common task based on shared values and interests, and should maximise the potential of existing frameworks to continue to enhance the fight against trafficking. For Europe in particular, cooperation between the EU and its neighbours is already facilitated by a number of migration dialogues. This provides ample opportunities for the EU and its Member States to:

  • Identify clear mechanisms for the selection of priorities for cooperation with non-EU countries and systematically include these priorities in all relevant legal and policy instruments, as well as in operational support and capacity-building; 
  • Set out specific actions for transnational cooperation on trafficking with countries of origin and transit, to be included in regional dialogues, as well as within existing and future cooperation frameworks between the EU and non-EU countries; 
  • Continue to ensure that actions are based on common principles and objectives in preventing trafficking, identifying and protecting trafficked people and bringing offenders to justice.

Preventing vulnerability to trafficking and the unintended consequences of restrictive migration policies


This first blog in the series focuses on the need for coherence between anti-trafficking policy and the wider migration policy framework. We argue that legislation, policy and initiatives to combat irregular migration and migrant smuggling, and on asylum, must not unintentionally render people more vulnerable to trafficking in human beings (THB).

The unintended consequences of restrictive migration policies on vulnerability to trafficking are already understood to a certain extent. For example, increased border controls lead to increased reliance on smugglers for crossing borders and to the use of more dangerous and expensive routes, all of which can render people more vulnerable to trafficking.  

While protecting trafficked people and prosecuting perpetrators in trafficking cases is of course crucial, the first, overriding priority of any strategy or policy to combat trafficking should be to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place. Anti-trafficking policy must not only respond to the trafficking of migrants, refugees and separated and unaccompanied children post facto. The unintended consequences on vulnerability to trafficking of related migration and security policy frameworks - including asylum, migrant smuggling and irregular migration, and border management - must also be explored, understood and addressed. By ensuring all relevant policy frameworks contribute to preventing trafficking, we can better guarantee protection from trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

EU policies preventing trafficking in human beings 

The 2012 – 2016 EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings specified clear actions to prevent trafficking, such as EU-wide awareness-raising activities and campaigns, partnerships with the private sector, and addressing demand for trafficking. Furthermore, the strategy called for policy coherence to ensure that action against trafficking is also included in other related policy areas.   

Significant progress has been made in the area of policy coherence, ensuring that relevant policies take anti-trafficking into account. Many related EU policies now include measures to combat trafficking, such as: the European Agenda on Migration; the European Agenda on Security; the EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling 2015 – 2020; and the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015 – 2019. We must not, however, be complacent and assume that including THB in these strategies and documents necessarily prevent these policies from unintentionally contributing to vulnerability to trafficking, or to the actual incidence of trafficking cases.

Vulnerability to trafficking among refugees and migrants fleeing conflict 

The European Commission’s Report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2016) rightly recognises that traffickers exploit people’s vulnerabilities, which are made worse by external factors such as “poverty, discrimination, gender inequality, violence against women, lack of access to education, ethnic conflict, and natural disasters.” Research has shown that these factors indeed play a significant role in rendering people more vulnerable to trafficking. ICMPD’s recent research, Targeting Vulnerabilities, on the impact of the Syrian war and related displacement on trafficking, for example, confirms that conflict can increase vulnerability to trafficking and the incidence of trafficking. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants states clearly that:

Refugees and migrants in large movements often face a desperate ordeal. Many take great risks, embarking on perilous journeys, which many may not survive. Some feel compelled to employ the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and others may fall prey to such groups or become victims of trafficking. Even if they reach their destination, they face an uncertain reception and precarious future.

But the “uncertain reception and precarious future” for refugees and migrants mentioned in the New York Declaration refers not just to the experience of settling in a foreign country and learning a new language. It is also the result of the legal and institutional systems that people must navigate in order to exercise their right to seek asylum, maintain a legal immigration status, ensure theirs and their families’ survival, and seek legal redress if they are victims of abuse. 

Uncertain reception and precarious future 

In 2015, one million people arrived to the EU along irregular migration routes, the majority from countries affected by conflict - from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. However, focusing only on the link between conflict and vulnerability to trafficking overlooks the legal, policy and institutional environment that refugees and migrants find themselves in, and how this environment may contribute to vulnerability to trafficking. Currently, we do not fully understand the implications of wider migration and security policies on individual migrant and refugee vulnerability to trafficking. We must acknowledge this, and seek to ensure that all relevant policy frameworks are coherent, with the objective of preventing trafficking before it occurs. Therefore, policy makers should:

  • Continue to include anti-trafficking efforts in broader migration and security legislation, policy and actions; 
  • Review existing legislation, policies and practices that affect migrants and refugees, including children, particularly in the areas of asylum, preventing irregular migration and migrant smuggling, and border management, to ensure that they do not increase vulnerabilities to trafficking; and
  • Ensure access to rights to alleviate the vulnerabilities of migrants, particularly irregular migrants, asylum applicants, refugees and unaccompanied and separated children, and prevent them from becoming victims of trafficking or other exploitative practices.



In 2016, EU Anti-Trafficking Day on 18 October will be observed for the tenth time, as the first ever EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings covering the period 2012 – 2016 comes to an end. We therefore consider it timely to take stock of recent developments and identify priorities for the coming years. This year’s UN High-Level Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September resulted in the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a set of commitments with the stated objectives of saving lives, respecting rights and sharing responsibilities on a global scale.

In the background of these presentations, speeches, summits and workshops, are the girls and boys, women and men, who are on the move, fleeing conflict, violence or persecution. It must be remembered, in the words of the Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, that “you only leave home when home won’t let you stay”, and that “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”.  

Some of these people on the move have been deceived, or threatened with violence or psychological intimidation, and put in situations of abuse, exploitation or trafficking. But for these people, this desperate situation may be the only way they can survive, feed their families, or keep their families safe. Europe has faced a crisis of migration policy in 2015 and 2016, and the price for the gaps and failures continues to be paid, ultimately, by these children and adults.

It is at this crossroads that we observe the 10th EU Anti-Trafficking Day, the conclusion of the first EU anti-trafficking strategy and the declaration by world leaders on a new global approach to protecting refugees and migrants. We do this with a constant focus on the people directly affected, who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.