On the occasion of International Day for Abolition of Slavery, marked throughout the world on December the 2nd, ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action organized a press conference. The main topic addressed at the event was the most widespread form of contemporary slavery in the world – human trafficking with the purpose of labor exploitation. Namely, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), close to 21 million people are subjected to forced labor.
Human trafficking with the purpose of labor exploitation is a pressing issue in Serbian society as well. Mass migration of Serbian workers to Sochi and other cities in post-Soviet countries are usually irregular. Unregulated employment and residence make Serbian workers vulnerable to different forms of frauds ranging from financial ones, to violations of labor rights, exploitation and, in the most gravid cases, trafficking in human beings with the purpose of labor exploitation. Victims of this form of trafficking are most commonly recruited for work in labor-intensive sectors, with large share of informal labor and/or long chains of subcontracting, like in construction industry. According to ASTRA’s data, this form of human trafficking is the second most common form of exploitation of Serbian citizens. People falling victims to labor exploitation are most frequently men, varying in age and educational background.
Trafficking in human beings with the purpose of labor exploitation represents the gravest form of human rights violation and needs to be distinguished from violation of labor rights and poor status of workers in transitional economies. Unlike those workmen who do not receive payment for their labor, victims of trafficking cannot quit their job and return to their homelands. On the contrary, their passports are taken away by the trafficker, their movement is being controlled, and they are subjected to intimidation, threats, physical and psychological violence. Apart from being forced to work ten or more hours in harsh and unsafe conditions, seven days a week, trafficked workers are deprived of food, drinking water, heating and worm clothing, adequate accommodation and contact with their family members.
The number of registered cases of human trafficking with the purpose of labor exploitation and problems the workers face trying to exercise their rights is very high. For this reason, cross-sectoral collaboration and adequate level of political will to tackle these issues remain the crucial preconditions to eradication of this form of crime. This should include more effective work and cooperation between the police, labor, market and other competent inspectorates, prosecution, embassies and consular offices in countries that are destinations for Serbian victims of labor exploitation. In addition, it is necessary to create better conditions in the labor market in order to eliminate factors contributing to someone’s becoming a victim of human trafficking, including unemployment, economic crises and poverty.
Speakers at the conference were Sasa Simic, from the Branch Trade Union of Construction Industry “Nezavisnost”, Bosko Latkovic, Head of the Department for Implementation of Interstate Agreements and benefits at National Employment Service, and Ivana Radovic, coordinator of ASTRA Prevention and Education Program.