The Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 167,000 people in conditions of modern slavery in Germany, indicating a prevalence rate of 2.0 modern slavery victims for every thousand people in the country.
In 2016, the German government reported 375 completed police investigations leading to the identification of 536 victims of human trafficking and 551 suspects. Overall, this represents a 14 percent increase in identified victims since 2015 when 470 victims were identified. Of the 536 identified victims, 488 were victims of sexual exploitation and 48 were victims of labour exploitation. The majority of these victims were of German and Southeast European origin. Although the German legal framework on human trafficking was reformed in 2016 to align with the international definition of trafficking and to differentiate between different types of exploitation beyond labour and sexual exploitation, the government statistics for that year are based on previous definition. The numbers also include 96 child victims who were trafficked, all of them for the purpose of sexual exploitation.1 The German government has said it believes the actual number of people in modern slavery, and particularly in forced labour exploitation, is much higher than recorded in the official statistics.2
Forced labour in Germany occurs among migrants who are employed in unregulated and unskilled sectors. Forced labour exploitation takes place in domestic work due to the hidden nature of this sector, as well as in more closely regulated industries such as construction,3 agriculture, meat processing, hospitality, retail, and transport and logistics.4 Of the 48 victims of labour exploitation identified by German authorities in 2016, 34 were male and 13 were female. Exploitation was reported in construction (12 victims), hospitality (6 victims), and domestic work (4 victims). Fifteen of the cases were allocated to “other industries” and, for 12 of the cases, the industries were unknown. Most victims were of Eastern European origin such as Ukraine (25 victims), Poland (8 victims), and Bulgaria (3 victims). The government report on trafficking statistics also notes that victims are increasingly being recruited by recruitment agencies, as was the case for more than half of all identified victims. These private recruitment agencies lure foreign workers to Germany using false promises of working conditions or salary.5 These agencies capitalise on foreign workers’ lack of knowledge of their legal rights in Germany and their limited knowledge of the German language.6 Once the foreign workers arrive in Germany, they may be threatened, forced to live in substandard conditions, and forced to work without being paid what they had been promised or without being paid at all.7
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
Forced sexual exploitation represented the vast majority (90 percent, or 488 cases) of all identified cases of modern slavery in Germany in 2016. The most common nationalities of the reported victims were German, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Nigerian, and Ukrainian. Thirteen of the victims originated from Asia. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes were from Germany, Bulgaria, and Romania. More than 40 percent of the victims reportedly already knew the perpetrator before they were sexually exploited, which highlights the role of dependency in the recruitment of victims. Nearly a quarter of the victims reported being tricked into sex work. The perpetrators often pose as “lover-boys” – men pretending to be in love with their male or female victims in order to gain control over them before forcing them into the sex industry. The Internet, most notably social media and dating websites, plays a central role in initiating contact between the perpetrator and the victim. Reportedly, about 10 percent of all victims were recruited through sham modelling or talent agencies, as well as through advertisements in newspapers.8
Nigerian women and girls are lured by criminal gangs in Nigeria and trafficked for sexual exploitation in Germany and across Europe. The reasons why Nigerians choose to migrate are diverse. For example, it has been found that migration is motivated by “success stories” of Nigerians who made it to Europe; these stories often override any stories of exploitation and abuse. There may also be pressure to support one’s family as for many families in Nigeria it has become a custom to invest in the emigration of a family member. Having a family member living abroad is furthermore seen as a source of pride.9 Nigerian women may also be forced into modern slavery by their traffickers through a form of religious blackmail called juju. This is a bonding ritual performed by a juju priest through which victims are psychologically bound to their traffickers and are made to believe that disobedience will result in physical or mental harm.10 Upon arrival in Germany, these women and girls are forced into sex work.11
In 2016, for the first time, the German government released separate figures on commercial sexual exploitation of children. These are based on a new reporting requirement suggested by a federal-state project group and approved by the Conference of the State Ministers of the Interior in 2013 to provide a clearer picture of the sexual exploitation of children.12 The reporting scope of sexual exploitation of children was extended beyond the current statutory offences13 to include additional offences of sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes.14 For 2016, 62 criminal investigations involving 96 child victims and 99 suspects were recorded under the existing offences that cover child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and 83 criminal investigations involving 118 child victims and 87 suspects were recorded under the new additional offences of child commercial sexual exploitation.15
Data on forced marriage are scarce at the global and regional level as many cases are not reported, while other data have not yet been systematically recorded due to the relatively recent criminalisation of forced marriage across EU countries. Despite these gaps, data reported by the European Parliament in 2016 show that there are approximately 50- 60 cases per annum in Germany, with 58 reported cases in 2014, the most recent date that data are available.16 This is likely to be a conservative reflection of the size of the problem.
According to a 2011 study by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, about 3,400 women and girls in Germany sought help by NGOs or counselling centres in 2008 because they were either faced with a forced marriage or had already been forcibly married. The majority of individuals affected by forced marriages were women between the ages of 18 and 21 who had migrated from overseas or had been born in Germany to migrant parents. Most of the women who reported forced marriages were born in Germany (32 percent),17 followed by women from Turkey (23 percent), Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro (8 percent), and Iraq (6 percent).18 A study on forced marriage in Turkish communities in Germany found that Turkish women in forced marriages suffer mental health problems for the rest of their lives, including a much higher likelihood of attempted suicide as compared to women who were not in forced marriages.19 It is predicted that forced marriages may increase in Germany in the coming years as a consequence of the influx of migrants into Europe.20
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While Germany is affected by exploitation within its own borders, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that Germany, like many other countries globally, will be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policymakers, 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 Germany that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery.
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to Germany
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of US$)
Laptops, computers, and mobile phones
Apparel and clothing accessories
Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana
|Fish||514,771||China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
Germany imports US$16.9 billion worth of at-risk electronic goods mostly from China, but also Malaysia, which amounts to over 50 percent of its overall imports of this product category per annum.21 Clothing and accessories imported by Germany from countries considered at-risk are valued at more than US$11.4 billion, with US$8.8 billion of these coming from China and more than $US1.3 billion coming from India. Cocoa is the third highest value product at risk of being produced with modern slavery (US$616.4 million), followed by US$514 million in fish imports from various at-risk countries. Germany also imports US$87.3 million worth of timber from Brazil and Peru that may be tainted by modern slavery.
Research shows that migrants in Germany are at increased risk of modern slavery, and that they tend to be more frequently employed in low-paid jobs than non-migrants.22 Migrant victims of forced labour may be vulnerable due a lack of knowledge of their legal rights in Germany, as well as limited language skills. Private recruitment agencies have been found to prey on individuals from Southeast Europe to lure them to work in sectors such as meat processing, construction, and transport and logistics.23
Workers in less regulated industries, such as domestic and care work, are particularly vulnerable to forced labour due to the hidden nature and the often-precarious circumstances of employment in these sectors. In 2015, it was estimated that about 80 percent of workers in private households in Germany were illegally employed.24 Most of these workers are women. The isolation experienced by workers in private households, in combination with long hours, the physical nature of the work, and the fear of losing their employment if they complain, significantly enhances workers’ vulnerability and decreases the likelihood they will report abuse.25
Domestic workers in diplomatic households are at increased risk of exploitation due to their special legal status that ties them to their employer. Diplomatic immunity makes it effectively impossible for domestic workers to take any legal steps against their employers if they are exploited. Domestic workers coming to Germany with diplomatic families are regulated by the Federal Foreign Office that issues the residence permits (called protocol IDs), which are valid only for working in the household of that particular employer. If the work relationship with this employer ends, irrespective of the cause, the domestic worker has to leave the country. The maximum stay for domestic workers in diplomatic households in Germany is five years. Re-entry to Germany is possible at the earliest after one year of staying abroad.26
Children in Germany and across Europe may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to discrimination and social exclusion. At particular risk are children who are from ethnic minorities, especially those from the Roma community,27 or children with disabilities.28 Gaps in child welfare and protection systems also reportedly contribute to children’s risk of exploitation, in particular where children go missing from the state care system.29 According to a study by UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migrant and refugee children and youth moving along the Central and Eastern Mediterranean sea routes to Europe are more vulnerable than adults to exploitation and trafficking, with children from Sub-Saharan Africa being most at risk. Germany was the second most common intended destination among surveyed children on both routes.30
Forced marriage occurs in the Europe and Central Asia region. These marriages are driven by many factors, including poverty, religion, and a desire within patriarchal cultures to protect a girl or young women from losing her virginity outside of marriage and provide them with a guardian from a young age. Another trend noted by the European Parliament includes certain immigrant communities and ethnic minorities sending family members overseas to be forced into marriage.31
Response to modern slavery
Germany has implemented the EU Directive on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims (2011/36/EU),32 which in October 2016 led to a comprehensive reform of legal provisions regarding trafficking in human beings and exploitation.33 In the reformed legislation, the concept of human trafficking conforms with the international definition. According to section 232 (1) of the criminal code, it is now illegal for anyone to exploit another person’s predicament or vulnerable residence status in a foreign country to recruit, transport, transfer, harbour, or receive individuals in order to exploit them. Persons under 21 years of age do not have to be in a vulnerable situation for it to be deemed a criminal offence. Trafficking by means of “exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the exploitation of criminal activities, or the removal of organs” are now considered punishable offences under Section 232 (1).34 Forced sexual exploitation is now criminalised separately in section 232a35 and forced labour under section 232b,36 whereas exploitation of labour has also been included in the definition of labour exploitation in Section 23337 of the German Criminal Code.38 Forced marriage is criminalised separately in Article 237 of the Criminal Code.39
The Act Protecting Persons Working in Prostitution (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz) entered into force on 1 July 2017, providing for the first time a legal basis on which to regulate sex work and protect sex workers against forced sexual exploitation and trafficking. The new legislation requires individuals to obtain statutory permission to operate a business selling sex and it requires sex workers to register with the authorities. The granting of a license to operate a sex work business is linked to fulfilling certain minimum requirements regarding protecting the health and safety of sex workers.40 The new law has been criticised by various civil society organisation for imposing discriminatory controls and restrictions on sex workers rather than protecting them from exploitation.41 Some believe that the forced “outing” of sex workers will increase the number of men and women who choose to work illegally, thereby increasing their risk of exploitation.42
Germany does not have a dedicated agency with a mandate to conduct comprehensive labour inspections, including identifying victims of forced labour exploitation. Due to Germany’s federal structure, competencies are divided between federal and state (Länder) agencies. On a federal level, the Financial Monitoring Unit to Combat Illicit Employment (Finanzkontrolle Schwarzarbeit (FKS)), which is part of the Central Customs Authority (Zoll), carries out workplace inspections; however, its main responsibility is to pursue illegal employment and verify if employees are correctly insured in the social security system, not to identify conditions of modern slavery.43 It has also been reported that the FKS is not sufficiently resourced to be able to comprehensively inspect all sectors that may be at risk of modern slavery. An analysis of inspections conducted nationwide shows that the construction, hospitality, and transport and logistics sectors are regularly inspected, which gives reason to suspect that other sectors, such as agriculture or the processing industry are checked less frequently.44 The setup of labour inspections varies from one state to another. Labour inspectors are generally responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety legislation and for monitoring compliance with laws relating to working hours, child labour, and the protection of adolescent and domestic workers.45
Germany has had a Federal Working Group on Trafficking in Human Beings since 1997 and in 2015 the government established a Federal Working Group on Combatting Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation. Both groups consist of representatives from federal and state ministries, police, public prosecutors, and NGOs,46 and they generally serve as platforms to exchange ideas, make recommendations, and draft policy papers. However, they are not responsible for coordinating efforts to combat modern slavery across Germany.47
Domestic workers in diplomatic households are regulated by the Federal Foreign Office. Repeated cases of exploitation of domestic workers in private households of diplomats have been reported to the NGO Ban Ying in Berlin since the late 1990s. Consequently, Ban Ying began working with the Federal Foreign Office, pushing for regular protection measures and out of court mediation processes between employer and employee when there are complaints of exploitation.48 In 2015, a new circular note (9/2015) from the Foreign Office, in addition to circular note 34/2011, identified employers’ obligations towards their domestic workers. To be able to hire domestic workers, the employer’s embassy has to guarantee that the minimum prescribed standards, such as the provision of a minimum wage, a written contract, and health insurance, will be met. The application additionally has to contain a labour contract, a declaration by the employer and employee, and a health insurance certificate.49 Since mid-2012, domestic workers in diplomatic households also have to visit the Foreign Office once a year for a private interview to renew their official ID cards during which they are asked about their living and working arrangements.50
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
In 2016, Germany, as the largest European economy,51 reformed its procurement law that transposed the EU procurement Directive 2014/24/EU into German domestic law. Article 57 of Directive 2014/24/EU requires that public authorities exclude a business from the procurement or award procedure if the business was convicted by final judgment 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 International Labour Organization (ILO) core conventions, such as Convention No. 29 on forced labour and Convention No. 182 on worst forms of child labour.52 The newly implemented Part IV of the Restraints of Competition Act emphasises the importance of complying with labour and social legislation. According to paragraph 123, mandatory grounds for exclusion of an economic operator from a public contract or tendering process include human trafficking, forced labour, and forced sexual exploitation.53
In December 2015, the government published its first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which aims to provide a roadmap for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). It includes measures to implement for more socially responsible public procurement, as well as requirements to improve the situation in business supply chains.54
In line with Germany’s obligations under international human rights treaties, the government has implemented a range of measures to promote sustainable public procurement among public authorities. Since 2010, the Alliance for Sustainable Procurement has brought together federal, state, and local authorities to increase the percentage of sustainable purchases of goods and services by public authorities.55 The Sustainability Compass (Kompass Nachhaltigkeit) is an information platform launched by the federal government to provide information and guidance for public authorities on how to incorporate social and environmental sustainability criteria into their tendering procedures.56 In 2014, the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Procurement at the Procurement Office of the Ministry of the Interior, along with the BITKOM association, Germany’s digital association, drew up a Declaration on Social Sustainability for IT, which includes adherence to the ILO core labour standards in procurement procedures. There are reportedly plans to extend this agreement to other critical products.57
Business supply chains
The German government transposed the EU Directive 2014/95/EU on “Disclosure of non-financial and diversity information” into national law in March 2017 through the CSR Directive Implementation Act (CSR-Richtlinie-Umsetzungsgesetz). Publicly traded companies that have a workforce of more than 500 employees and a balance sheet total of more than 20 million euros or turnover of more than 40 million euros are required to disclose information on the impact their business practices have on society and the environment.71 Although reporting on modern slavery is not specifically mentioned, Clause 289(c) defines that companies are required to report on their labour practices, such as compliance with the ILO core labour conventions, including the prohibition of forced labour.72
The German government, and in particular the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, has also supported the development of the German Sustainability Code, which provides a framework for reporting non-financial performance. The Code was adopted in 2011 and can also be used as a guidance document for organisations that are required to report under the new non-financial reporting legislation. It includes reference to human rights, including forced labour.73
In 2014, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development initiated the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, which brings together members of the textile and clothing industry, retailers, trade unions, and civil society. The initiative is designed to comply with sustainability standards, such as the UNGPs and the ILO core labour standards, and to guarantee corporate due diligence in the textile and clothing sector.74 The aim is to have 75 percent of the German textile and clothing market signed up to the Textile Partnership by 2018.75
The German government should:
- Provide comprehensive training on the new legal framework on human trafficking to police, prosecutors and judges to ensure the legislative changes are understood and will therefore be effectively enforced.
Improve victim support
- Conduct in-depth training with police, judges, and youth welfare services on victim identification, focused specifically on children.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Appoint a National Rapporteur/Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner who will be responsible for independently monitoring the implementation of modern slavery policy at the national level, in line with EU Directive 36/2011.
Address risk factors
- Extend the mandate of the Financial Monitoring Unit to Combat Illicit Employment (Finanzkontrolle Schwarzarbeit (FKS)) to include identifying conditions of modern slavery.
- Ensure the FKS is sufficiently resourced to be able to conduct inspections across all sectors that may be at risk of modern slavery, including the informal sector.
- Introduce regular labour migration channels into Germany for non-EU foreign nationals (including for workers in the low-skilled sector).
- Ensure all workers have access to effective complaint mechanisms, regardless of their residence status and without risking deportation.
- Implement policies to protect domestic workers in diplomatic households and ensure they can assess their rights, in particular:
- Removing visa restriction to allow domestic worker to change employers.
- Ensuring that if a case of exploitation becomes known to the Federal Foreign Office the respective diplomatic mission will not be allowed to bring in new domestic staff until the case is settled.
- Closely monitor the new Act Protecting Persons Working in Prostitution (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz) to evaluate its effectiveness in preventing forced sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Include modern slavery as a specific reporting requirement under the CSR Directive Implementation Act.
- Introduce a free, publicly accessible central repository where all business reporting as part of the CSR Directive Implementation Act would be listed, organised by type of reporting requirement.
- Ensure that public procurement officers apply the requirements under the new paragraph 123 of the Part IV of the Restraints of Competition Act, for example by establishing an internal list for procurement officers listing organisations that have been found to be suspected or convicted of human trafficking, forced labour, and forced sexual exploitation.