The Global Slavery Index estimates that 794,000 people lived in conditions of modern slavery in Russia on any given day in 2016, reflecting a prevalence rate of 5.5 victims for every thousand people.
The latest statistics provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), based on statistics collected by the Russian government, show that in 2015, there were 285 detected victims of trafficking under the different trafficking-related articles1 of Russia’s criminal code. Eighty-three of those were confirmed as victims of trafficking in persons and slave labour, and 202 were child victims of trafficking or other types of sexual exploitation.2 The number of cases investigated for trafficking in persons and other related offences under those criminal code articles amounted to 2,717. Additionally, 1,473 individuals were prosecuted, and 1,196 individuals were convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related offences in 2015. 3
Forced labour in Russia predominantly occurs in informal and less regulated industries. Forms of labour exploitation can be found in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, begging, trash collection, and illegal logging.4 Forced labour involves migrant workers, who are either already in the country (including irregular migrants5), or foreign citizens who are brought to Russia for the purpose of exploitation.6 Migrant workers who fall victim to exploitation primarily originate from Central Asian countries (such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan), Ukraine, Vietnam, China, and North Korea.7
There were documented cases of exploitation of construction workers working on stadium sites for the 2018 FIFA Soccer World Cup.8 Research conducted by Human Rights Watch identified a range of abuses among these construction labourers, including non-payment and delayed payment of wages, as well as lack of employment contracts and other documentation required for legal employment.9 Workers also reported having to work outside in extremely cold temperatures and facing retaliation or threats for raising concerns about their labour conditions. Seventeen workers have reportedly died on World Cup stadium sites in Russia.10
Internal migrants from Russia’s poorer regions and migrants from the former Soviet satellite states are reportedly trafficked (sometimes involving drugging and kidnapping) and then forced to work against their will in brick factories and small farms in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan.11 This involves unscrupulous recruiters who target migrants at train stations in major Russian cities. These migrants come to Russia searching for work and are tricked into forced labour by recruiters offering fraudulent employment opportunities,12 but then kidnapped or drugged and brought to far away Russian republics, such as Dagestan, where they are forced to work against their will.13 There are also reports of workers from Ukraine14 and Myanmar15 who have experienced forced labour in Russia’s fishing sector, involving recruitment agencies that deceived these workers about their working conditions.
Children exploited in forced begging is also increasingly an issue.16 This type of forced labour mainly occurs in large cities. Victims are lured by promises of jobs, brought to the cities from other Russian provinces or foreign countries and then forced to beg in the streets. If they do not bring back a certain amount of money a day, they may be punished.17
State-imposed forced labour
Compulsory prison labour was re-introduced as a criminal punishment from January 2017.18 Under the current legislation, convicted prisoners may be forced to perform labour at state prisons or private companies. Although prisoners’ working conditions are technically covered by general labour laws, the voluntary consent of the prisoner to perform such work is not required. Therefore, there are concerns that prisoners are forced to work for private companies against their will.19 In addition, Russian law allows for compulsory labour to be imposed as a punishment for various activities, including the expression of political or ideological views which are deemed to be ‘extremist’. The definition of ‘extremist activities’ is vague, which could therefore result in arbitrary imprisonment involving compulsory labour.20 Recent amendments to the law also allow changing the punishment from compulsory labour to a prison sentence if the convict evades the conviction or violates the regime of compulsory works.21
In early 2018, following the adoption of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2375 on 11 September, asking that all UN member states ban North Korean migrant labour,22 and adoption of UNSC Resolution 2397 on 22 December 2017, demanding the repatriation of all North Korean migrant workers working overseas,23 the Russian government reportedly began repatriating North Koreans who had previously entered Russia under a labour agreement between the two countries.24 North Koreans who were previously sent to Russia under this agreement were reportedly subject to forced labour, including seized wages to cover living expenses and other “mandatory contributions”, which are an ongoing source of income for the regime in Pyongyang.25 It is estimated that more than 50,000 North Korean migrant workers have been sent abroad through the North Korean state-sponsored system, most of whom were sent to Russia and China. Once overseas, North Korean migrant workers are primarily employed in the mining, logging, textile, and construction industries.26 Workers often do not know the details of their employment contract, parts of their salaries are withheld, and they are forced to work up to 20 hours per day.27 In 2017, allegations of North Korean migrant workers being exploited in the construction of the St. Petersburg World Cup stadium emerged,28 which FIFA later confirmed.29
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
Russian women and children are victims of forced sexual exploitation, both within Russia and overseas. Additionally, foreign women from Europe (mainly Ukraine and Moldova), Southeast Asia (primarily Vietnam), Africa (mainly Nigeria), and Central Asia fall victim to sex trafficking within Russia.30 There are reports of Nigerian women and girls being trafficked to Russia on student visas and subsequently forced into sex work to repay their alleged “debts” for visa and travel costs. The victims are allegedly officially accepted into universities in Russia so that they may obtain their visa document, but rarely make contact with the universities once they had arrived in Russia.31
Child commercial sexual exploitation is prevalent throughout Russia, although the visibility of the crime has decreased due to an upsurge in internet usage, which has created new pathways to approach and exploit victims. It is reported that teenage girls are primarily sexually exploited in brothels, hostels, saunas, and increasingly in private apartments.32
There are reports of Russian women and girls being abducted for forced marriage in the northern Caucasus region.33 In 2015, the case of a 17-year-old girl who was reportedly forced into marrying a 46-year-old police commander in Chechnya in the northern Caucasus received international media attention.34 The police chief took the girl as his second wife although polygamy is prohibited in Russia, but apparently common in Chechnya.35
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While Russia is affected by modern slavery within its own borders, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that Russia, 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 Russia that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery.36
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to Russia
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of US$)
Laptops, computers and mobile phones
Apparel and clothing accessories
|Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam|
|China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
The highest value at-risk products that may be produced using modern slavery and imported by Russia are laptops, computers, and mobile phones, and apparel. In fact, over 60 percent (corresponding to a value of US$ 3.8 billion) of all laptops, computers and mobile phones imported by Russia are from China, which is considered at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods. Similarly, of the more than US$ 3 billion worth of clothing from various at-risk countries, nearly US$ 2.7 billion come from China. Cattle from Brazil and Paraguay are the third largest import to Russia that may be produced using modern slavery (US$ 917.5 million). Russia imports 85 percent of its sugarcane from Brazil, totalling US$ 321.8 million in value. Fish from various at-risk countries are imported into Russia up to an annual value of US$ 249.4 million. Fish imports from China make up the by far largest share of these fish imports (nearly US$ 178 million).
Xenophobia, intolerance, and negative attitudes toward migrant workers,37 asylum seekers38 and marginalised groups, such as the LGBTQI community,39 exposes these populations to increased risk of exploitation and abuse in Russia. For example, in 2017, brutal campaigns against gay men in Chechnya reportedly led to abduction, forced disappearances, torture, and deaths by authorities.40
The large majority of Russia’s migrant workers are irregular migrants41 - a status that can make them particularly vulnerable to modern slavery. An estimated 10 to 12 million workers enter Russia annually.42 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil war and increasingly repressive regimes caused many individuals from the Central Asian republics to move to Russia in search of employment, taking advantage of visa-free travel arrangements. Once in Russia these individuals faced physical abuse, withholding of documents, and unsafe working conditions.43 In recent years, the rouble has been devalued amid the contraction of the Russian economy due to low crude oil prices and western sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in Eastern Ukraine.44 In light of this and increasingly negative public and government attitudes towards migrants from Central Asia45 – combined with more restrictive migration policies aimed at Tajik, Belarusian, Kazak, and Armenian citizens46 – more migrants from Central Asia are entering Russia irregularly and thereby are more vulnerable to exploitation.47 Patterns exist where irregular migrants, due to their undocumented status, are willing to accept jobs without knowing exactly the nature and conditions of the work they are committing to.
The conflict in the eastern part of the neighbouring Ukraine has increased the risk of cross-border trafficking and forced labour due to war, displacement, and economic crisis.48 Ukraine has one of the largest diasporas in the world, with the major share residing in Russia.49 Russia was one of the most popular destination countries for Ukrainian migrants seeking work abroad in 2014-15 despite the conflict, with 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens registered in Russia.50 The main destination country of all Ukrainian victims of human trafficking who were provided with IOM assistance between 2010 and 2015 was Russian.51 A survey commissioned by the IOM also found that the percentage of Ukrainians who would agree to precarious offers regarding working abroad increased from 14 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2015.52 This may reflect a worsening economic situation and increasing conflict in the Ukraine.
Government corruption and complicity heightens vulnerability of Russian citizens and migrants to modern slavery. There have been reports of Russian government officials facilitating trafficking and entry of trafficking victims into Russia.53 Some employers reportedly bribe Russian officials to avoid penalties imposed on them for employing irregular migrants.54 There are also suspicions that officials charge migrant workers who enter the country excessive fees for work permits.55
There are strongly patriarchal views of marriage in some of Russia’s republics in the North Caucasus, such as Dagestan and Chechnya.56 These views are reinforced by cultural traditions and religious views that do not respect women’s rights. Rules practiced in these regions contradict rights set out in the Russian Constitution and may contribute to women’s vulnerability to forced marriage in these areas.57
Response to modern slavery
Russia has criminalised human trafficking in article 127.1 of the criminal code. While the use of slave labour is criminalised under article 127.2 and article 127.1 mentions slave labour as a type of exploitation as part of the crime of human trafficking, the act of slavery itself is not distinctly criminalised.58 Articles 240 and 241 address recruitment into sex work and pimping.59
In relation to the alleged exploitation of migrant workers from North Korea on the construction site for the St Petersburg stadium for the 2018 Soccer World Cup, the St Petersburg construction committee reported that authorities had regularly conducted inspections to ensure Russian labour laws are respected.60 Although Russia has a labour code and inspections are carried out under this basis, labour inspectors do not specifically target forced labour or rigorously investigate workers’ complaints during their inspections. At the time of writing there had not been any criminal investigations as a result of labour inspections carried out on construction sites for the World Cup.61
New legislation that limits temporary agency work (known as “outstaffing” in Russia) came into effect in January 2016. The new law amends the labour code, tax code, and existing employment law.62 It limits the amount of time an employer can send employees to work for other firms and requires these outsourced employees to earn the same amount as permanent employees.63 Previously, companies were able to use temporary employers to carry out harmful or hazardous work without paying additional benefits, so this legislation may help reduce the vulnerability of these temporary workers.64
The Russian government has put tougher restrictions on migrant workers in an attempt to cut the number of irregular migrant workers in the country. At the beginning of 2015, a new law came into effect that requires foreign workers from countries that do not have a visa policy with Russia to obtain a license to be able to work legally, to pass Russian language and history tests, and pay extensive medical insurance and examination fees.65 The new law has particularly affected migrant workers from CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, such as Tajikistan, who were previously able to use their national identity cards to enter and remain in Russia, but now need to produce an international passport instead.66 This law has resulted in a slight decline in influxes of migrant labour in 2016-2017, but – despite concerns67 – it is unclear if it drove considerable amounts of workers underground or prevented them from coming to Russia altogether.
A new extradition agreement between Russia and North Korea, signed in February 2016, introduced measures to allow mutual deportation of illegal immigrants.68 The Main Directorate for Migration Affairs (until April 2016, previously called the Federal Migration Service) is now allowed to repatriate North Koreans who are “illegally” residing in Russia, even though they may face serious risk of abuse and exploitation in labour camps, or even the death penalty, upon their return to North Korea. There are concerns that this may also affect those North Koreans with refugee or asylum seeker status in Russia.69 In addition, the repatriation of North Korean migrant workers as a result of the sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 239770 could expose those repatriated workers to exploitation in their home country.
A 2012 law, which demanded that foreign-financed NGOs and other international organisations that engaged in political activities register as “foreign agents” was further amended in 2014 to authorise the Justice Ministry to register “undesirable groups” as “foreign agents”, even without their consent.71 This law effectively cracks down on civil society, including groups combatting modern slavery and providing support services for victims. Human Rights Watch reports that as of July 2017, the list of active “foreign agents” consisted of 88 groups.72 At least one NGO that performs counselling for victims of trafficking and one NGO that assists migrants were added to this list.73
The Russian government provides no funding for dedicated shelters for modern slavery victims.74 Limited shelter services are exclusively provided by a limited number of NGOs.75 In major cities such as St Petersburg or Moscow, shelters for homeless people may take in trafficking victims on a case-by-case basis. There are shelters for women and children in distress in major cities, which are usually funded by municipalities, that can deal with modern slavery victims, although they are not specifically trained to care for these types of victims. Adolescent victims of trafficking are placed in shelters for children in distress.76
Generally, victims are identified and referred by either NGOs or law enforcement on an ad hoc basis. The Russian government has not yet introduced a comprehensive National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which would provide a framework for cooperation among the different actors involved in identifying and protecting victims.77
The Russian government re-introduced compulsory labour in its prison system, beginning 1 January 2017. Compulsory labour was originally included as a provision in the Russian Criminal Code in 2011 to offer an alternative punishment to prison, but its implementation had been postponed due to a lack of facilities.78 Four new correctional facilities have recently opened, that will house criminals sentenced to compulsory labour. These facilities have lower security than prisons and allow convicted criminals to leave with permission from authorities. However, individuals will not be allowed to refuse or switch jobs once they are assigned to a role. It is reported that individuals subject to compulsory labour will receive a salary.79 Starting in 2018, individuals who violate the regime of compulsory labour or try to evade it may also receive a higher penalty, such as a prison sentence.80
The Russian government did not draft a national action plan and failed to establish a body or similar measures to effectively coordinate the government’s response to modern slavery.81
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
Public procurement in Russia is primarily regulated by the Federal Law No. 94 on Placing Orders for Provision of Goods, Works, and Services for State and Municipal Needs of July 21, 2005. The law created a unified nationwide procurement system and established mandatory procedures for all federal, provincial and municipal government agencies.82 However, the procurement law does not contain any explicit policies or guidelines that prohibit the use of businesses suspected of using forced labour, or purchasing products that were made using forced labour.83
business supply chains
Since the publication of the 2016 Global Slavery Index, Russia has not implemented any law that requires private businesses to report on steps taken to reduce risk of forced labour in their supply chains.
The government of Russia should:
- Sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Actions against Trafficking in Human Beings.
- Sign and ratify the ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention No. 29 and the ILO Convention 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
- Establish legislation that criminalises forced marriage and provide protection to those who may fall victim to forced marriage.
Improve victim support
- Develop a National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a multi-disciplinary framework between all relevant actors from state and civil society aimed at identifying and referring victims to assistance and protection.
- Publicly report statistics on the number of identified victims, investigations, prosecutions, and court outcomes related to modern slavery.
- Establish specialised shelters for victims of modern slavery, and provide training for all social workers so they might provide specialised care to victims.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Develop a National Action Plan in close cooperation with civil society and all government agencies involved in responding to modern slavery crimes.
- Appoint a national coordination body to enable effective coordination and monitoring of measures to combat modern slavery and charge it with national and international reporting responsibility.
Address risk factors
- Grant North Korean migrants the right to apply for asylum instead of deporting them back to their home country where they may be subject to forced labour and other severe abuses.
- Ensure systematic and rigorous labour inspections targeting detection of modern slavery in industries where workers, including migrant workers, are known to be prone to exploitation, such as construction.
- Implement raising awareness campaigns to highlight the discrimination that LGBTQI individuals face and arrest perpetrators of violence against LGBTBQI groups.
- Establish behaviour change programs targeting patriarchal attitudes that facilitate the sexual exploitation and forced marriage of women and girls.
- Investigate reports of official complicity into trafficking and related modern slavery crimes.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Introduce legislation that requires large businesses to report on their actions taken to eliminate risk of modern slavery in their supply chains.
- Implement legislation which requires government agencies to minimise the risk of using businesses suspected of using forced labour or purchasing products that were made using forced labour.