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We need more awareness of trafficking for forced criminality: an interview with Vicky Brotherton

This interview with Vicky Brotherton from Antislavery International draws attention to recent research on trafficking for forced criminal exploitation and forced begging in Europe. The interview explores the role of the UK and other EU member states in regards to anti-trafficking policy. Additionally, it gives special attention to how policy can be effectively implemented and internationally enforced to tackle this type of human trafficking and adequately identify and protect its victims.

Marie Jelinkova: What is your position in Antislavery International?

Vicky Brotherton: I work for the RACE in Europe Project, which stands for Response Against Criminal Exploitation and Forced Begging. It is my role to organize the projects training events, carry out research and coordinate project partners in their research.

MJ: We have recently undertaken an interview about forced criminality with your colleague. Now, Antislavery International is researching and drafting a report specially focused on forced criminality and begging. Why did you focus on this topic?

VB: The research is part of the RACE in Europe Project. The idea for the project came in April 2011, the time that the European directive 2011/36 [1]

(so called the trafficking directive) came into being. The trafficking directive included a broader definition of trafficking which included trafficking for criminal exploitation and forced begging. There was an increase in this type of activity and crime, but there had been very little research about it. This is why the partners came together and decided to focus on this issue.

MJ: Which countries did you report and why did you choose these countries?

VB: The report focuses on the partner countries. We have eight partners in the project. There are three partners in the UK, one in Ireland, two in the Czech Republic and one in the Netherlands. These partners came together not only because of their expertise in trafficking but also because of the known links between the countries in terms of trafficking routes. For instance, we know that some of the trafficking victims that are found in cannabis farms in the UK have previously transited through or been exploited in the Czech Republic. We also give a brief overview of the situation in the rest of Europe in our report, providing case studies from particular countries such as Sweden and Norway.

MJ: Are there important differences among these countries in respect to forced criminality?

VB: I think the first thing we found was that some countries are much further ahead or further behind in recognizing this type of trafficking. So, for instance, in the UK and the Netherlands there is a category for criminal exploitation in the official trafficking statistics. The Czech Republic, however, has no such category and no reported cases of trafficking forced criminality. Furthermore, some countries such as the Netherlands have been very good at making guidelines for non persecution of trafficking victims. In terms of the types of activities, there are differences in what we have seen. Traffickers are very good at exploiting different social and legal escapes that exist in a country, so they change their activities depending on the situation in particular country.

MJ: Could you give me some examples?

VB: Trafficking for cannabis cultivation is an issue across Europe. In the UK, we have also found that one of the key issues is trafficking for pick pocketing and begging. Between 2008 and 2010, the UK saw a huge increase in the number of pick pocketing crimes in central London committed by Romanian Roma children. And the police (as a part of Operation Golf [2]) investigated and found that a criminal gang was operating and organizing these children. They undertook a joint investigation between the Metropolitan Police and the Romanian national police, tackling the issue both in Romania and in London. As a result there was a sudden reduction in the number of crimes committed by Romanian children and the number of children present on the streets. This is an example of how a significant increase in trafficking crime was suddenly reduced because of an initiative to tackle it. I am not saying that it was completely dismantled because it may have moved elsewhere, but there are fluctuations in the types of trafficking seen based on the work being done to reduce it.

MJ: Does the topic get special attention at EU level?

VB: The European Union was the first international institution to really draw attention to fact that trafficking for the purpose of forced criminality and forced begging was taking place and recognized member states’ failure to respond to it.

MJ: And does the European Commission expect some monitoring from the member states in this matter?

VB: Yes, the EU has monitored how many states have fully transposed the trafficking directive. At the moment, only about 9 out of the 27 have actually fully transposed it. The Czech Republic is one of them. Nevertheless, it is necessary to monitor how the transposition works in reality. We strongly hope that it will be monitored in the future.

MJ: How are cases of forced criminality uncovered?

VB: That is one of the key problems with this type of exploitation. The victims usually come to the attention of the authorities as offenders rather than trafficking victims because of their criminal activities. In theory, they should be protected from being identified and prosecuted as offenders by the EU trafficking directive and the legal provisions for non-punishment and non-prosecution of victims. However, we know from the research that this isn’t always the case (and they are actually identified as victims but are punished for trafficking crimes). They are sometimes identified as victims quite far into the criminal justice system. For instance, a lawyer who is aware of this type of trafficking may identify the victims in court or at sentencing. Often NGO’s learn about these cases in offender institutions, when they speak with victims who have already been prosecuted. They will then try to appeal their cases. One of the issues is that there’s not enough training for professionals on identifying this type of exploitation.

MJ: The non-punishment and non-persecution provisions are not well enshrined in the legislation?

VB: No. I’d say that across the board it’s pretty poor. First, it is necessary to have precedents to show that the UK and other EU member states should uphold their obligation under the EU trafficking directive. So potentially that could have some impact. However, more training is needed to increase awareness of this kind of exploitation and about the non-prosecution and punishment of trafficking victims.

MJ: Now I think that you partly answered my last question, which is that this problem and its solution are very complex- but could you suggest some changes to improve the situation?

VB: Firstly, international legislation, particularly the EU trafficking directive should be fully transposed by states and upheld through national trafficking action plans and policy. Secondly, there should be training for professionals that may encounter trafficking victims in situations of forced criminality and forced begging and efforts made to increase awareness of this issue. And thirdly, there should be transposition of the international non-punishment and non-punishment provisions through legislation. Trafficking is an international crime and there needs to be international cooperation between member states to try to tackle it. We can try to tackle it at a national level but it is very often the case that the actions and the activities of criminals will move to different European countries. To confront the problem, it is necessary to have the same or very similar provisions and measures in all countries. Finally, protection measures should be available to trafficking victims and should be upheld for cases of forced criminal exploitation. More specifically, e.g. the cases of trafficking for the purposes of forced begging often include child victims that need to be appointed a legal guardian in order to ensure that they are kept safe and away from traffickers.

[1] Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA

[2] More about the case can be found e.g. here


The text was written under the project called "Foreign workers in the labour market," which was carried out by the Association for Integration and Migration, in cooperation with the Organization for Aid to Refugees and the Multicultural Center Prague. International project partners are Caritasverband für die Diezöse Osnabrück from Germany and the Anti-Slavery International from Great Britain.
Marie Jelínková


PhDr. Marie Jelínková Ph.D., works as a researcher at the Center for Social and Economic Strategies of the Faculty of Social Sciences in Prague and externally lectures on international migration at the same faculty. In her research she focuses on the issues of migration and integration of people with migration background, she has focused in detail on the situation of persons without a residence permit, access of migrants to health care or labor exploitation. She defended her dissertation thesis on the issue of Mongol migration to the Czech Republic. She studied at FSV UK and at the University of Queensland. In the past, she has also worked as editor of the migraceonline.cz portal.

25. 9. 14

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