You are here:

Report / Paper / Summary

Publication date:2 June 2015

Severe labour exploitation: workers moving within or into the European Union

Worker exploitation is not an isolated or marginal phenomenon. But despite its pervasiveness in everyday life, severe labour exploitation and its adverse effects on third-country nationals and EU citizens - as workers, but also as consumers - have to date not received much attention from researchers.


The project looks at criminal exploitation of the work of EU and non-EU migrants. It collects information on the nature of and responses to severe forms of labour exploitation across the EU. It builds on previous FRA research, particularly concerning irregular migrants in domestic work, and is linked to current work on victims’ rights and support.


The project deals with a topic that has not been extensively researched to date at EU level. Labour exploitation largely remains undetected and unreported because of its illegal nature and the vulnerabilities of its victims. Labour exploitation is high on the EU agenda. It is particularly linked to the EU strategy for eradicating human trafficking, as well as legislation such as the Employers’ Sanctions Directive, the Trafficking Directive, the EU Victims’ Directive, the Seasonal Workers' Directive and on-going revision of the Directive on Posted Workers.

Stakeholders at EU, national and local level may use the evidence collected by the project such as the existence and implementation of legislation and policies. One example includes the obligation of Member States under the Employers’ Sanctions Directive to criminalise labour conducted under particularly exploitative working conditions. Groups that work on the ground dealing with these issues, such as labour inspectorates, trade unions and victim support organisations, may also learn from the promising practices of others that will be collected by the project.


Through fieldwork interviews and desk research, the project collected information about the situation on the ground with regard to: the forms and frequency of labour exploitation incidents; the economic areas affected; common risk factors that contribute to labour exploitation; prevention measures aimed to reduce the risk of labour exploitation; and the obligations of specific organisations involved in preventing labour exploitation and supporting victims and the cooperation that exists between them. The research began by seeking a general overview of the situation of victims of labour exploitation in all 28 Member States. It examined national legislation criminalising labour exploitation and what forms of exploitation are covered (and what gaps exist). Potential areas of high risk for labour exploitation will also be identified. The fieldwork involved interviews and focus group discussions in selected EU Member States with various professional groups such as the police, labour inspectorates and victim support organisations. Case studies were also be collected.