On 6th of May EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, will launch the new EU Strategy on combating trafficking in human beings. This new EU Strategy will be closely linked with the EU’s strategy to tackle organised crime (2021-2025) which will be the strategic guiding document, providing the political framework and priorities for the EU’s fight against organised crime for the next five years. Civil society and other actors could contribute to the new organised crime strategy until 15th of March and La Strada International sent in a submission. Earlier – in September 2020, La Strada International also provided input to EU’s consultation on the upcoming Human Trafficking strategy. In both submissions, La Strada International called for more attention for all forms of human trafficking, enhancement of identification of human trafficking, especially by improving access to information, safe reporting and complaint mechanisms for victims and vulnerable groups, next to enhancing access to adequate support, effective remedies and compensation, non-punishment and residence. It is expected that the new EU Strategy will stronger call for criminalising the ‘knowingly use of services that foster exploitation’.
Whilst many sectors regularly rely on exploitative labour practices, much of the ‘demand actions’ currently taken by EU Member States have only targeted the sex work sector. Not only has this approach been inefficient at reducing trafficking, it has been found to dramatically increase violence and other human rights violations of sex workers. Broadening criminal liability to criminalize all those that knowingly use services which involve exploitation seems further dangerous and impractical, especially if – as it was recently recommended by the EU Parliament, that ‘the user should demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to avoid the use of services provided by a victim’. This creates a positive obligation on all citizens to examine working conditions under which goods were produced or service offered. Such a provision may create a situation of legal uncertainty, where anyone can be held criminally liable for buying goods, products or services for everyday use, that are produced within the global supply chain, by workers in extremely precarious and exploitative conditions (and may include trafficked persons).