The Global Slavery Index estimates that there were 129,000 people living in modern slavery in France on any given day in 2016, reflecting a prevalence rate of 2.0 victims for every thousand people in the country.
According to the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative des droits de L’homme — CNCDH), the French independent rapporteur, public data in France on human trafficking and exploitation suffer from a lack of robustness and coherence with government agencies facing several challenges in collecting key statistics on these crimes.1
The Ministry of Justice Department for Statistics and Studies (Sous-direction de la statistique et des études – SDSE) states that based on prosecution data there were 1,439 victims of modern slavery, including 202 children in 2015.2 In 2017, a qualitative study on victims of modern slavery in France was commissioned by the Inter-ministerial Mission for the Protection of Women against Violence and Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Mission Interministérielle pour la protection des femmes victimes de violences et la lute contre la traite des êtres humains — MIPROF). The report revealed that NGOs in France assisted 1,826 victims of human trafficking in 2015. These victims largely came from Nigeria, Romania, and Morocco. Out of the 1,826 victims identified, the major industries of exploitation included the sex industry (1,476 out of the 1,826 victims), domestic work (185 victims), forced labour (80), forced criminality (66), and forced begging (13).3
The Central Office for Combating Illegal Labour (Office central de lutte contre le travail illégal – OCLTI) does not maintain available statistical data on labour trafficking or forced labour. However, cases of forced labour have been identified among certain communities and diaspora in France, who are often exploited in textile workshops, construction and other industrial sectors, as well as in domestic servitude, often by members of their own community.4 This means that traffickers will exploit cultural and linguistic ties to coerce members of their own community into forced labour exploitation. Based on data from January to May 2015, CNCDH reported that only 25 cases of exploitation of begging, 100 cases of undignified working and housing conditions, and zero cases of forced labour had been identified by the police in France.5
The Committee Against Modern Slavery (Comité contre l’esclavage moderne – CCEM), an NGO which focuses on domestic workers in France, reported that in 2010, approximately 50 percent of their identified victims in domestic work came from West Africa, 35 percent from other parts of Africa, eight percent from Asia, and five percent from Europe.6 In 2013, a French woman and her husband purchased a 14-year-old girl from Côte d’Ivoire on a trip and forced her into domestic servitude. They did not allow her to attend school, did not pay her wages, and physically assaulted her.7
An NGO in southwest France that works with seasonal workers in the agriculture industry identified victims of forced labour exploitation primarily from Tunisia and Morocco.8 In 2008 and 2010, there were public strikes involving thousands of undocumented workers in service industries such as hotels and restaurants to demand better protections and treatment for undocumented workers in France.9 Interestingly, according to CNCDH, 30 percent of cases of forced labour exploitation involve both French abusers and French victims, highlighting that forced labour is not always conducted by foreign nationals against their own co-nationals.10
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
The Central Office for the Suppression of Trafficking in Human Beings (Office central de répression de la traite des êtres humains – OCRTEH) provides official statistics on French victims of forced sexual exploitation. While their records cover victims of “pimping and sexual exploitation”, without distinguishing whether these are victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation, they are able to report that in 2014, there were 710 adult victims of pimping and sexual exploitation (681 women and 29 men). They report that the majority of these victims were from Romania, France, Nigeria, China, Bulgaria, and Brazil.11 Similarly, other studies of sex trafficking in France relate to prostitution and street-based sex work rather than other specific forms of slavery. CNCDH reported that between January and May 2015, there were 45 total cases of human trafficking identified, 313 cases of procuring (or purchasing commercial sex), and 32 cases of forced prostitution.12 In 2014, the same source identified 49 human trafficking cases, 255 procuring cases, and 54 cases of forced prostitution.13
Commercial sexual exploitation also affects children in France, with reports that in 2015, of the 50 child victims of trafficking identified in Paris, 29 were victims of commercial sexual exploitation.14 The majority of victims of sexual exploitation were French girls, but there has been a reported increase in the number of Nigerian victims of commercial sexual exploitation, in particular girls younger than 15 and sometimes as young as 11.15 Data from Eurostat confirms that 225 Nigerian victims were identified in France between 2010 and 2012 – the third highest number of Nigerian victims reported across Europe.16
Recent analysis by the National Institute of Demographic Studies (Institut national d’études démographiques — INED) of the Trajectories and Origins survey on population diversity revealed that in 2008, of immigrant women aged 51-60, nine percent were married against their will and 13 percent were married without their full consent, concluding that 22 percent of immigrant women aged 51-60 did not freely choose their marriage. In this generation, two-thirds of the marriages took place prior to migration to France.17 More recently, there are concerns over French citizens or residents being forced into marriages in their parents’ country of origin while taken on vacations during school breaks. These individuals do not then return to school in France and remain in a forced marriage overseas.18
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While France is affected by exploitation within its own borders, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that France, like many other countries globally, will be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policy-makers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 below highlights the top five products (according to US$ value, per annum) imported by France that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery.19
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to France
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of US$)
Apparel and clothing accessories
Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
Laptops, computers, and mobile phones
Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana
|China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
France imports US$8.2 billion worth of clothing from countries at risk of modern slavery. Additionally, 50 percent of France’s overall imports of laptops, computers, and mobile phones are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery, with the lion’s share of these electronic products originating from China (just over US$7.0 billion) and a smaller amount imported from Malaysia (US$36.8 million). Cocoa (US$611.8 million) and fish (US$394.8 million) are the third and fourth largest at-risk imports respectively. France imports over US$90 million worth of timber from Brazil and Peru which are suspected of using modern slavery in their often-illegal logging industries.20
OCLTI, the Central Office for Combating Illegal Labour, identifies persons with physical and/or mental disabilities and those from certain communities and diaspora as particularly vulnerable to forced labour exploitation in France. Migrants from Romania, France, Nigeria, Bulgaria, China, and Brazil are particularly at risk.21 French and EU nationals are also at risk of internet recruitment into exploitative work conditions.22
Mentally ill persons are at risk of exploitation in France. In 2013, for example, a mentally ill Cambodian refugee was exploited for labour on a farm. He was only paid 150 Euros for six months of work and was forced to work every day, often up to 10 hours a day.23 Not only are mentally ill and disabled persons initially vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers, but victims of modern slavery suffer from additional mental health illnesses as a result of their abuse. In Europe, the link between trafficking and mental health illnesses in Europe, such as depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, suicidal thoughts, as well as some physical symptoms, is well established.24 More recently, King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that 80 percent of women and 40 percent of men reported high levels of depression, anxiety, or PTSD in a 2016 study of identified victims in the UK.25
Undocumented migrants are a particularly vulnerable group in the European Union and in France. Refugees and other migrants without documentation find it difficult to be identified as victims and remain unidentified by law enforcement.26 In 2016, the International Organization for Migration reported that approximately 75 percent of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa had experienced modern slavery and exploitation.27 Increasingly restrictive immigration policies throughout Europe, and regional violent conflict, have forced migrants into dangerous situations in order to escape to France and other European countries.
Children are a particularly vulnerable group to modern slavery and have been identified in domestic servitude, begging, and forced crime in France.28 Romanian children from the Roma community have been exploited in forced criminality (such as forced pickpocketing)29 and there have also been NGO reports of Vietnamese children trafficked through France to be exploited in cannabis industries or nail salons in the UK. These individuals were reportedly housed in a disused coal mine southeast of Calais before being trafficked across the English Channel.30 The so-called “migrant crisis” has increased the vulnerability of children, with irregular migrant children and unaccompanied migrant children fleeing conflict being especially at risk of modern slavery. After the closure of an informal migrant camp in Calais, nicknamed ‘the jungle’, in October 2016, migrants dispersed across France, but many have since returned. In November 2017, according to UNICEF, there were an estimated 100 unaccompanied minors who may be at risk of exploitation in Calais.31 As of February 2018, there were an estimated 800-1000 refugees and migrants, including children, from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in cities along the northern French coastline.32
Young foreign females are identified by NGO reports as being vulnerable to exploitation in the domestic sector. This industry is associated with traffickers characterised by diplomats, wealthy businessmen, and tourists from the Middle East and North Africa.33 However, CCEM highlights that it is not just the wealthy or diplomats that exploit their domestic workers, with cases of domestic exploitation found in the suburbs of cities and more disadvantaged neighbourhoods.34 The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that women and girls make up the large majority of domestic workers,35 possibly due to long-held cultural associations between females and domestic work. Anti-Slavery International finds that “domestic work is particularly vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery because of the unique circumstances of working inside a private household combined with a lack of legal protection.”36 Domestic workers, often migrants, accept this work without realising the extent of physical and sexual abuse that they will encounter, and their limited movement beyond the home.
Response to modern slavery
As a member of the European Union, France is required to implement EU Directive 2011/36/EU on Preventing and Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings. Nationally, human trafficking is criminalised by Article 225-4-1 of the Penal code, which defines the crime as the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, housing or receiving a person under certain circumstances for exploitation.37 French legislation on trafficking in human beings was amended by Law no. 2013-711 of 5 August 2013 bringing it in line with EU law and the international commitments of France. These amendments clarify new provisions about the purposes of exploitation.38 In addition, Law no. 2013-711 that further aligned modern slavery legislation in France with EU standards, introduced a new Article 225-4-8 into the Criminal Code that made it possible to prosecute French nationals who have committed acts of trafficking in human beings abroad. These provisions even allow for situations where the local legislation does not criminalise such acts and without there being any need for victims to lodge a complaint or for the State where the acts were committed to report them.39
Article 225-14-1 of the Criminal Code defines forced labour as the act of forcing a person, through violence or threat, to carry out work without remuneration or for remuneration manifestly bearing no relation to the scale of the work carried out.40 In June 2016, France ratified the Protocol of 2014 to the 1930 Forced Labour Convention. Through this ratification, France has made a formal commitment to apply this international instrument within France, which gives fresh impetus to action against all forms of forced labour.41
France has made great improvements in its efforts to coordinate government services through the creation of an inter-ministerial mission for the protection of women against violence and the fight against human trafficking (MIPROF) in January 2013 to coordinate counter trafficking strategy at the national level. These coordination efforts have integrated national and local stakeholders and non-profit organisations.
The French government has made some improvements to protection services for victims of modern slavery. Law no. 2016-444 of 13 April 2016 provides additional resources to provide social and professional support to victims of sex trafficking in France.42 While training has occurred for most authorities that come into contact with victims, there is evidence that the training is not conducted regularly or compulsory.43 Also, there are no national, standardised guidelines or standard operating procedures for all that may come into contact with victims of modern slavery, or a national referral mechanism to coordinate the provision of support.44
The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs provides guidance for potential victims of forced marriage, including legal resources and protections they can pursue if they are at risk of being coerced into a forced marriage.45 In France, a court can order the annulment of a marriage performed without a spouse’s consent. Taking someone abroad to force them to marry is an offense that is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 Euros.46 The Ministry also provides guidance on how to obtain emergency protection orders to prevent being forcibly removed from France to participate in a forced marriage as well as legal advice for minors. 47 Forced marriage is criminalised under Article 222-14-4 (forcing a person to marry abroad) of the Criminal Code, which was introduced in 2013. Law No. 2010-769 of 9 July 2010 on violence against women introduced forced marriage as an aggravating offence.48
In 2016, the French Parliament passed law 2016-444 that makes it illegal to buy sexual services.49 Under the new law, anyone caught purchasing an act of sex from a sex worker will be fined and required to attend classes on the harms of prostitution. There would be a 1,500 Euros fine for a first offence, rising to 3,750 Euros for a second offence.50 These classes may be ordered as an ancillary measure to help prevent reoffending (Article 131-16 9°bis of the Criminal Code).51 This move sees France join the group of European countries adopting the “Swedish model” to criminalise purchasers of sex without penalizing sex workers. To date, this group includes Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Northern Ireland.52 Under this new law, women, children, and men in sex work will not be criminalised but will rather receive social support and benefits to exit sex work. 53 The 2016 law also inserted a new provision (L316-1-1) to Article L316-1 in the Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum ((Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile – CESEDA). Article L316-1 provides that a residence permit is granted to victims of trafficking who cooperate with judicial authorities. The new provision (L316-1-1) provides that a victim of trafficking who was sexually exploited in France and who accepts to undertake a program run by NGOs to leave forced sexual exploitation will be granted with a residence permit, regardless of whether they co-operate with the judicial authorities.54
In May 2014, France adopted the first national action plan (2014-2016) prepared under the leadership of MIPROF.55 This national plan was implemented until mid-May 2017. The national plan aimed to focus on three priorities for the period 2014-2016: Identifying and supporting victims, dismantling trafficking networks, and developing public policy against human trafficking.56 CNCDH has been serving as an independent rapporteur monitoring the French response since 2014.57
A report released by CNCDH in 2016, and reinforced by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), highlights that a number of measures outlined in the plan have been only partially implemented, mainly due to limited resources and that responding to human trafficking is not perceived to be a political priority.58 While the existence of the plan shows evidence of some political will, there is still not a fully financed and coordinated approach.59 As of May 2018, the government has not released an updated national action plan.60
Response to Modern Slavery in Supply Chains
The European Union has begun moving toward more sustainable and socially responsible public procurement. In 2014, the EU Parliament passed Directive 2014/24/EU to encourage European countries to “buy social” by taking into account social considerations in their public procurement processes, albeit not particularly targeting supply chains.61 Article 57 of Directive 2014/24/EU requires that public authorities exclude a business from the procurement or award procedure if it has been convicted by final judgement for child labour or human trafficking. The Directive also recommends integrating social considerations as part of the contract performance conditions, including asking businesses to comply with the ILO core conventions, such as Convention 29 on forced labour and Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour.62 The requirement of a conviction under these new EU rules sets a high bar, given that human rights abuses in supply chains rarely lead to criminal prosecutions, or are often unreported in the first place.63 Although the requirements of the public procurement directive are not as far-reaching as legislation in the UK or the US, for instance, they nevertheless put pressure on European governments to move toward more ethical and sustainable public procurement practices. European countries were required to transpose the Directives into national law by 18 April 2016.64
France transposed Directive 2014/24/EU into national law through Ordinance no. 2015-899 of 23 July 2015 relating to public procurement contracts, and its implementing Decree no. 2016-360 of 25 March 2016. This law and its implementing decree were developed to ensure that there is transparency, equal treatment of potential bidders, and open access to public procurement such as open public announcement and competition. All contracts exceeding 25,000 Euros are subjected to these requirements65 and must abide by all labour laws and ensure that there is not exploitation of workers.
Business supply chains
In 2014, the European Union introduced the EU Directive 2014/95/EU on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information, which requires large businesses to include in management reports a non-financial statement containing information relating to social, environmental, and human rights matters.76 Generally, all national laws require that company reports cover the following topics: environmental performance, social and employee matters, human rights, and corruption and anti-bribery. While modern slavery is not expressly mentioned, it is effectively captured under the category of human rights. Broadly speaking, businesses are required to disclose this information if they have more than 500 employees or are a public interest entity.77 Twenty-seven EU countries have fully transposed the Directive into domestic legislation. It is estimated that the legislation will cover around 6,000 large companies across the EU.78
The French transposition of this Directive are found in amendments to the Law on Accounting PZE No. 51, where businesses with more than 500 employees, or a net turnover of over 40 million Euros, or a balance sheet totalling over 20 million Euros, must publish an annual report detailing non-financial and diversity information. This report must be released within eight months of the end of the financial year and be made available on businesses’ websites for five years. No fine is imposed for non-compliance unless an interested party asks for the disclosure of the non-financial information. If it is not made available, financial penalties can be imposed upon the business by a judge.79
In 2017 France adopted a “Corporate duty of vigilance law” obligating French companies to implement an effective “vigilance” or due diligence plan that directly and practically addresses environmental, health and security, and business-related human rights risks, including serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.80 The scope of the new law extends to all French companies that have more than 5,000 employees domestically or employ 10,000 employees worldwide.81 Article 1 of the law, which incorporates Article L. 225-102-4 of the French Commercial Code, requires that the vigilance plan includes a mapping of risks and procedures that both mitigate and prevent serious violations as well as a monitoring scheme.82
Companies in France are also becoming increasingly aware of the importance of conveying increased transparency and accountability to stakeholders, including establishing a positive public image through adequate CSR reporting. A worldwide survey by KPMG in 2015 on CSR reporting found that France leads the world on third-party verified corporate responsibility reporting, with 96 percent of companies reporting annually.83
The government of France should:
- Extend protections available under the new Article L316-1-1 in the Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum (Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile – CESEDA) to apply to all victims of modern slavery, not just those affected by forced sexual exploitation.
- Assess impact of legislation that makes it illegal to buy sexual services to ensure that clients of sex workers are still identifying victims of forced sexual exploitation.
Improve victim support
- Translate the additional resources provided under Law no. 2016-444 of 13 April 2016 to provide social and professional support to victims of sex trafficking in France into programs that are victim-centred and tailored to individual needs.
- Establish centralised protocols and standard operating procedures across the French government and frontline law enforcement to identify more victims of modern slavery across all forms of exploitation in France, including those experiencing forced labour.
- Establish a national referral mechanism so that all those who experience exploitation are able to access support.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Develop the second national action plan based on the evaluation and findings of the CNCDH review.
- Ensure that the new national action plan is fully resourced with a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities of different agencies.
- Establish regular coordination meetings with all national and local stakeholders, including civil society.
Address risk factors
- Coordinate with the British Government to provide protection and safe migration pathways for refugees and asylum seekers living in camps and cities across northern France.
- Support prevalence estimation efforts and studies at city, department, region, and national levels in France, including collaboration with Walk Free Foundation and European efforts to conduct Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) on government-held modern slavery data.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Extend the Duty of Vigilance Law to apply to public procurement.
- Introduce a free, publicly accessible central repository where all business vigilance plans would be listed to enable monitoring by civil society.