Current EU policy incapable of dealing with modern slavery – study

Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha
The EU fails to act quickly enough to prevent human traffickers from making profits, affecting the authority’s capability to monitor and apprehend suspects, according to a new report.

The study, by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank and written by Fiona Cunningham, who formerly advised Home Secretary Theresa May, warns that Europe has been too slow to adopt policies which would catch out modern slave traders, and says more needs to be done by the EU’s law enforcement authorities.

The report, titled ‘A Modern Response to Modern Slavery’, urges a “concerted pan-European drive by national governments and law enforcement … to disrupt and defeat the gangs of international criminals making multi-million pound profits from trafficking human beings into a life of slavery.”

It provides 40 recommendations for the ways authorities can tackle organized crime groups (OCGs), which it says forces thousands of victims into a life of sham marriages, sex work, slave labor, benefit fraud and petty crime.

The think tank adds that some OCGs involved in human trafficking operate with highly-sophisticated business models, referencing the houses built in Slovakia using UK taxpayer-funded benefit payments.

“Slovakians refer to the houses as ‘Smarties’ because they are painted in bright colors [like the confectionery]. They are built on the proceeds of benefit fraud orchestrated by an OCG network which duped families looking for work into traveling to the UK by coach. On arrival, the traffickers seized their documents, forced them to claim benefits then kept the money,” the report said.

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It suggests a Modern Slavery Act, similar to the one recently passed in the UK, should span the breadth of Europe, offering immunity from prosecution for victims and life sentences for perpetrators.

The report further found that the principle of free movement has made it difficult for police to track victims as they are able to arrive in countries perfectly legally, meaning that more cooperation between states was necessary to deal with the issue.

“Modern slavery crime must end. Victims are hidden away from the public eye and they have no voice. Under the tight control of a slave trader, victims are unable to tell anyone of their enslavement and the repeated violence and rape that is so often a feature of it. We must be their voice” said Cunningham.

“Modern slavery is a high harm, high threat crime. Its international reach requires police to work more closely with law enforcement in other countries. Our EU borders are less defined and the internet provides opportunities for organized crime groups, yet challenges and hurdles for law enforcement investigations.

“Criminals of the sort that exist in the world of organized crime respect money over humanity. Organized crime groups think they can play by their own rules. Politicians, police and policy makers across Europe must leave them in no doubt that they are wrong and as a society, exploiting vulnerable people for profit will no longer be tolerated,” she added.

CSJ Director Christian Guy, said “We commit at the CSJ to help to make change happen. All over the continent others need to do the same. Slavery is not inevitable and leaders have the power to end it. This report lights the path they must take to do so.”