The EU continues to lead on combatting trafficking in human beings

Last week, we marked the Ninth EU Anti-trafficking day. The EU has been leading efforts to address trafficking in human beings. The 2011 EU anti-trafficking directive is based on a comprehensive, victim-centred and gendered approach and has transformed our capacity to work towards the eradication of all human trafficking.

MEPs will soon begin drafting a report on the implementation of this directive. I will be leading on this for the Socialists and Democrats group, which Labour MEPs are part of. We need to look in particular at the protection this directive has offered women and decide what further action needs to be taken.

Trafficking in human beings is a gender issue. The most robust data we have available suggests that at least 80% of victims of trafficking are women. Of these, the vast majority are trafficked for sexual exploitation and prostitution.

This is why we need our prevention approach to be based on demand reduction. In some member states, it is not a criminal offence to knowingly pay for the services of a victim of trafficking – whether it is sexual or labour exploitation. This area of the law needs to be addressed urgently. In other areas of law, we punish those involved in criminal activities. What kind of a message are we sending if we do not hold those responsible to account?

Another important element is the issue of transparency in supply chains. From this month, commercial organisations with a turnover of £36 million or more carrying on business in the UK will have to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement every financial year. This outlines the steps they have taken to ensure their business and supply chains are slavery free and will have to be published on the organisation’s website. Failure to comply can lead to an injunction. This is a step in the right direction but we need to make sure the strongest possible law is in place.

Voters in the UK will soon be deciding on their place within Europe and the wider world. As an active member of the EU, we are able to work together with our allies to share knowledge on the ever-changing tactics employed by traffickers. Only by working together can we develop Europe-wide data to understand flows and trends in trafficking and pull resources to identify and prosecute these cross-border criminal networks.

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