A report of modern forms of slavery in the Netherlands. Data on human trafficking 2008-2012

In her report “Trafficking in Human Beings: Visible and Invisible II”, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children provides a quantitative overview of what is known about the nature and scale of human trafficking in the Netherlands in the period 2008-2012. To mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, today she has published an English summary of the report.

Due to the increased efforts of numerous organizations in the last few years, there are a lot of statistics available about victims and perpetrators and investigations and prosecutions that provide a basis for an information-driven approach to combating human trafficking.

Who are the suspects?

To tackle human trafficking effectively, it is essential to know who the traffickers are and how they operate. The report by the Rapporteur helps to provide that information. The largest group of suspects are from the Netherlands (45%), followed by Hungary (8%), Bulgaria (8%), Romania (6%) and Surinam (6%), while the research also revealed that 80% of the suspects are male. On average, they are around 32 years of age. The number of human trafficking cases registered by the Public Prosecution Service rose again in 2012, to 311, compared with 257 in the previous year.

Who are the victims?

The agency responsible for registering possible victims in the Netherlands for the purposes of the National Rapporteur’s mandate is CoMensha. In 2012, CoMensha registered 1,711 possible victims, substantially more than in 2011, when the number was 1,222. This increase does not necessarily mean that human trafficking is on the increase. The number of registered possible victims depends in part on factors that are not necessarily related to the actual scale of human trafficking, such as greater awareness of the phenomenon, increased training or extra capacity for investigations which enable agencies to pick up more signs of human trafficking.

Most of the registered possible victims are women (88%) and their average age is approximately 25. Most victims (25%) come from the Netherlands, followed by Bulgaria (18%), Hungary (13%) and Romania (8%). In the period 2008-2012, 15% of the registered victims were minors, and 62% of those victims were Dutch. The figures show that too little is known about exploitation outside the sex industry, in sectors such as agriculture and horticulture and inland and marine shipping or about forced begging, for example. Fifteen percent of the victims in 2012 were exploited outside the sex industry, compared with 71% in the sex industry. The other 14% had either not yet been put to work or the sector in which they were exploited was not known.

Approach is progressive, there is room for improvement

The report also identifies areas where there is room for improvement: investigations could focus more on networks, facilitators and the financial flows associated with the crime. Human traffickers seldom operate alone, so human trafficking networks need to be clearly identified. Greater attention can also be devoted to identifying individuals and organizations that consciously or unconsciously facilitate the offence. As the National Rapporteur’s research revealed, uncovering all the links in the human trafficking process benefits the investigation and prosecution.

Making human trafficking more visible is essential for tackling it effectively. Naturally, that applies equally to the associated financial flows. Further investment in financial investigations will benefit investigations, since information about financial flows can be an important instrument for securing the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. International bodies have also recently drawn attention to the need to investigate the financial aspects of human trafficking. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) both referred to the enormous sums of money that are earned from human trafficking in recent reports. Both reports concluded that greater attention could be devoted to preventing money laundering in anti-trafficking efforts. The National Rapporteur endorses this appeal by the ILO and the OSCE.

International figures on human trafficking: two new reports

Two new reports appeared recently with international human trafficking statistics about human trafficking in the period 2010-2012. ‘Global Report on Trafficking in Persons’ from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and ‘Trafficking in human beings’ from the European Commission reported that human trafficking occurred in practically every corner of the world in the period 2010-2012.

In ‘Trafficking in Human Beings: Visible and Invisible II’, the National Rapporteur states that international data-collection initiatives are relevant when they inform us of trends that cannot be discerned at the national level, such as cross-border movements of victims and offenders. According to the UNODC report, victims are frequently trafficked within a region (37% of the known human trafficking situations involved intra-regional trafficking). The report also found that 34% of victims are trafficked within the borders of a single country. International statistics on human trafficking can also serve as an early warning system: sooner or later, what is happening in other countries could appear in the Netherlands. Examples are trafficking for the purpose of organ removal and criminal exploitation. The UNODC report revealed that human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal had been discovered and registered in twelve countries. The European Commission’s report also sheds light on forms of human trafficking that we have not yet seen a lot in the Netherlands, such as criminal exploitation and forced begging, which have been encountered in countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden. The knowledge acquired about these subjects in other countries could be extremely relevant for shaping policies in the Netherlands. And vice versa, the expertise gained in the Netherlands could help other countries in their efforts to combat human trafficking. For example, the Netherlands has been addressing the issue of domestic human trafficking for fifteen years now. A third of the registered possible victims are Dutch. On 18 November 2013, the National Rapporteur organized a meeting with experts from these countries with a view to exploring the subject of domestic exploitation.

Invisible human trafficking

Some human trafficking remains invisible and is therefore not reflected in the statistics. The size of this invisible share can only be estimated. However, to this day there are no accurate and reliable estimates, and the National Rapporteur is also reluctant to hazard a guess. In December 2013, The National Rapporteur was represented at a meeting of academics and researchers organized by UNODC to discuss the relevance of existing methods of producing estimates. The experts reached the conclusion that, because of the complexity of the phenomenon, it is not possible to produce a reliable global estimate with the data that are currently available. They do, however, feel there are possibilities for producing estimates on a smaller scale.