Focus areas

La Strada International advocates for the rights of trafficked persons, as well as those vulnerable for exploitation and trafficking. To ensure accountability for the effective implementation of policies and regulations, La Strada International advocates for legislation that fully recognizes and respects the rights of people and monitors implementation of policies and laws to ensure rights are realized.

The Platform targets European and international governmental bodies for the promotion of rights protection. For the coming five years (2021 – 2025) La Strada International has defined its strategic focus areas. For each of these areas concrete strategies are defined and actions taken.


Shrinking space

In general, the role of civil society in addressing social and human rights issues is strongly acknowledged by international governmental organisations, and it is regulated by both international and national law. This reflects a recognition of the need to engage civil society in the anti-trafficking field in policy and legislative development, in preventative efforts, in awareness raising, and in the provision of services to victims and marginalized groups.

However, ensuring that civil society is fully included in anti-trafficking efforts is not always easy. Over the past few years, NGOs have raised concerns about the legal and practical challenges affecting civil society’s daily work. These range from changes in the legal environment, challenges in funding and access to resources, obstacles in accessing policymaking, and threats and attacks against members of staff. Of course, this differs by country; but our members in Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Belarus have frequently reported such difficulties. There is no proper framework in place to uphold civic rights. CSOs are often excluded from political decision-making and/or face increasing difficulties in accessing decision-makers and providing meaningful input into the legislative and policy-making process.

NGOs are sometimes “competed out” by governments, which then establish their own NGOs (so called “GONGOs”) to compete for foreign funding or even “take over” civil society support programmes without offering adequate services in reality. This means that CSOs feel hampered in their efforts to play an efficient watch dog role, while noting with concern the serious gaps in governmental efforts, as well as gaps in the infrastructure and referral and assistance of those in need.

icon unconditional support

Unconditional support

Access to support for victims of human trafficking is currently very closely tied with the criminal justice system and the successful prosecution of perpetrators. Practice shows that victims have very limited access to protection, support and assistance, if they are unable or unwilling to cooperate with the authorities or if the criminal procedure has not started or is discontinued. Moreover, victims are often still required to give statements to authorities before they are able to recover and make a fully informed decision about doing so.

European countries hold different views of who may qualify as a trafficking victim. In some countries, victims are only registered as such if they agree to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers or if they consider themselves to be victims. If they do not ‘tick all the boxes’ or they are unable to cooperate with the authorities, these persons fall outside the ‘anti-trafficking frame’ and often have no access to their rights. In addition, the absence of adequate assistance and support may prevent trafficked persons from reporting to the authorities and may subject them to further trauma and re-victimisation. At the same time, experience shows that the recognition and protection of the rights of trafficked persons acts as an important incentive to report the crime and give a testimony.

icon identification of all formsRecognition of all forms of human trafficking

The number of identified trafficked persons in Europe remains low. Only a small percentage of the estimated high number of victims is recognised as such. Many persons facing severe forms of exploitation – with clear indications for human trafficking – are not recognised as victims of trafficking. Moreover, we continue to see a narrow focus on persons trafficked for sexual exploitation with a correlating lack of commitment and attention to other forms of human trafficking.

Even though trafficking for sexual exploitation is still the most detected and reported form of human trafficking in Europe, there are clear indications and growing evidence for/of other severe forms of exploitation in other regulated and unregulated labour sectors, like agriculture, construction, domestic work, and others. So long as other irregular and regular sectors continue to receive less policy attention and fewer efforts are made to regulate these sectors and their workforces, the identification of vulnerable, exploited, and trafficked persons in these sectors will continue to lag behind. Additionally, there is hardly any information on trafficking for forced criminality and/or forced organ donations in Europe.

icon safe reportingSafe reporting

Adequate safe reporting to report exploitation and access justice are lacking in most European countries, with people who are undocumented facing arrest, detention, and deportation if they approach the police to report violence or abuse. Rather than offering help, authorities frequently deny their right to protection and assistance, and enforce – or threaten to enforce – punitive measures instead.  A clear ‘firewall’ will allow workers to safely file a complaint to police or labour authorities and courts, and to get access to services and justice, all without facing immigration enforcement as a result.

This would empower workers, uphold fundamental rights, tackle abuses, and promote fair business practice. It would also ensure that all cases are properly investigated, that perpetrators are held to account, and all victims can come forward. In addition, states should make further efforts to provide information in at least the most common languages of countries of origin and ensure wide dissemination by various stakeholders, including civil society, to ensure that migrant workers know their rights and can exercise them effectively.

icon access to residenceAccess to Residence

The laws or policies determining the criteria for trafficked persons’ access to residence permits vary substantially between European countries. As a result, there are huge differences between the number of identified victims and that of issued residence permits. The REST research found that that few States grant residence and work permits to trafficked persons on the basis of both cooperation and on personal grounds. Recognition of the international protection needs and the granting of asylum and or subsidiary protection to trafficked persons remains very limited.

icon fair migration policiesFair Migration Policies

While EU Member States and the European Council and Commission have recognised the need for regulated international migration channels for (highly) skilled labour, they remain reluctant to publicly acknowledge their dependence on low-paid and informal forms of migrant labour. Indeed, in general there are limited possibilities for people from outside Europe to migrate to, and find legal employment in, Europe. Moreover, anti-trafficking policies are often misused to justify anti-migration policies: in many European countries, anti-trafficking policies are shaped within an anti-migration discourse.

However, restrictive policies can contradict their proclaimed purpose, as they may engender situations in which human rights violations are more likely to occur. Low-skilled or low-paid labour is often unregulated. There is a clear need to regulate to improve the protection of fundamental rights at work standards and prevent the creation of conditions that foster labour exploitation and consequently human trafficking

icon access to justiceAccess to Justice

Access to justice is about having the means and legal protection to exercise one’s right to seek remedy before a court of law or tribunal for wrongdoing suffered. While European countries have ratified several binding international legal instruments that offer rights to victims, they often fall short in meeting their obligation to guarantee such access to justice in practice.  A range of barriers obstruct the right to information, legal aid, or compensation. Victims often do not receive adequate information in a language they understand, and they often have no access to legal support due to financial barriers or lack of specialised legal support.

Alongside a lack of information, legal support and awareness, the right to compensation is also hampered through the long duration of criminal and civil proceedings, and – in the case of foreign victims – their return or deportation to their country of origin before a verdict is reached. Even when compensation is granted, trafficked persons rarely have the means to ensure a compensation order is enforced so they receive some payment. Consequently, legal remedy provisions remain underused and trafficked persons rarely receive the justice they deserve. See also

icon fair labour rightsFair Labour Rights

Many workers in Europe work without adequate protection or decent minimum wage, and those in irregular work or in an irregular situation are especially at risk of severe labour exploitation and abuse, including human trafficking and forced labour. Businesses find legal loopholes to avoid compliance with labour rights standards, like abusive subcontracting practices and making use of letter box companies to deny responsibility for the exploitation and abuse.

Such misuse must be addressed. Decent working conditions should be promoted more widely. Informal and unregulated work should be brought within the protection of labour laws. It should be ensured that labour rights are applied to all workers, without discrimination, and irrespective of their migration and residence status.

Binding legislation and control mechanisms should be established to ensure businesses’ compliance with labour standards and human rights, enacting sanctions for businesses that do not respect human rights and the law. Further, there needs to be a greater focus on monitoring contractors and subcontractors and job recruitment agencies, particularly in high-risk labour sectors.

icon Non Punishment and decriminalizationNon-Punishment

Despite international and European legally binding standards on non-punishment and the adoption of specific legislation in several countries, trafficked persons in Europe are often still wrongly detained, prosecuted and punished for offences they have been compelled to commit in the course, or as a result, of having been trafficked. This is a serious human rights violation and a denial of justice. It serves to reinforce distrust towards the criminal justice system by victims and others.

Overall, we observe a variety of interpretations, a lack of awareness among legal professionals, and serious shortcomings in the implementation of the non-punishment provision. Successful applications of the non-punishment provision do exist, but these positive experiences are far more often the exception than the norm. Overall, LSI members report failures to apply the non-punishment provision for all forms of human trafficking, but particularly in cases of trafficking for forced criminality, where victims seem more likely to be automatically regarded as perpetrators.

The implementation of the non-punishment provision should be applied in accordance with a human rights based approach, fully complying with the available legal instruments and not being limited in scope, but applying to any civil, administrative or criminal offence, including serious offences.

Advocacy Documents on the Non-Punishment Principle

Explanatory Briefs on the Non-Punishment Principle