Trafficking: a vile trade

Labour exploitation has overtaken sexual exploitation as the most common form of trafficking

Labour exploitation has overtaken sexual exploitation as the most common form of trafficking, and experts at the Council of Europe warn that official figures underestimate the scale of the problem. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Human trafficking, and the slave-like conditions that accompany it, are on the rise in Europe. For the unfortunate individuals involved, labour exploitation has overtaken sexual exploitation as the most common form of criminal abuse, and experts at the Council of Europe warn that official figures underestimate the scale of the problem.

The trafficking of men to work in agriculture, construction and fisheries has grown in tandem with the number of refugees fleeing war and persecution. But women and children from EU countries are also affected. Amongst other nationalities, they are trafficked to supply domestic and care services and these requirements may overlap with sexual exploitation.

Diplomatic households have long been regarded as potential places for such abuse. Cyprus, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia and the United Kingdom were identified in the report as trafficking "hot spots" while developments in Hungary are being viewed with particular concern. It would be foolish to believe the problem does not exist in Ireland.

A special Garda unit was established to combat sexual exploitation in 2008 and this unit was amalgamated with a National Protection Service Bureau in 2015, following the passage of reforming legislation. Allegations of abuse of vulnerable migrant workers have arisen in the fishing industry. Last year, 12 Indonesians were removed by gardaí from a British-registered fishing trawler in Castletownbere.

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Human greed drives this vile trade and the subsequent exploitation of vulnerable, fearful individuals. As a modern-day version of slavery and a denial of basic human rights, it has to be suppressed. Council of Europe experts came here in 2016 and recommended changes. These were made. A national action plan was subsequently introduced involving legislative changes, funding for research and NGO-run projects. Ireland has a good record in this area, compared to other EU States. But communal vigilance is required to protect that status.