Region Analysis


  • 1,243,400 Estimate Number Enslaved
  • 2.7% Regional Proportion of Global Number
  • 27.1/100 Average Vulnerability Score
  • 54.2/100 Average Government Response Rating


How many people are in modern slavery in Europe?

Despite having the lowest regional prevalence of modern slavery in the world, Europe remains a destination, and to a lesser extent, a source region for the exploitation of men, women and children in forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. According to the most recent Eurostat findings, European Union (EU) citizens account for 65 percent of identified trafficked victims within Europe.[1] These individuals mostly originate from Eastern Europe, including Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.[2] Non-EU trafficked victims are predominantly from Nigeria, China and Brazil.[3] Forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation remain the most commonly reported forms of modern slavery in Europe;[4] nonetheless, instances of other forms of modern slavery, such as forced child marriage, have been identified in Turkey.[5]

Regional Findings of Prevalence


Estimate number enslaved

Regional Proportion of Global Number


It is likely that the profile of identified victims may change in time as a result of the massive influx of migrants and refugees in 2015 and 2016. An IOM survey of migrants on the move throughout parts of Europe clearly indicates that people moving out of conflict zones and through Europe are both at high risk of exploitation, and are already being targeted. The recent influx of refugees has strained European protection measures, creating loopholes easily exploited by European criminal networks.

It is estimated that as many as 10,000 children registered as refugees are now unaccounted for, with 5,000 missing in Italy and 1,000 in Sweden.[6]

While not all of these children have been trafficked, Europol warns that gangs are now targeting these children for sexual exploitation, slavery, and forced labour in farming and factory work.[7]

Within the cases that have been formally identified by EU authorities, the largest proportion of registered human trafficking victims were female, approximately 80 percent of all victims. Romanian nationals, particularly women, accounted for most of the trafficked victims,[8] with many subject to commercial sexual exploitation within Europe.[9] Romanian women and girls are reportedly recruited by acquaintances, friends or relatives, sometimes with violence.[10]

Women and girls from Sub-Saharan Africa are also trafficked into modern slavery in Europe, particularly domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Nigeria is a source for persons trafficked to Europe, particularly women who are exploited in Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.[11] According to the UK National Referral Mechanism, Nigeria remains one of the most commonly recorded origin countries for victims in their human trafficking registration system.[12] Nigerian trafficking victims reach Europe through an array of complex trafficking networks by land, sea or air with a reliance on 'connection houses' which accommodate people along the transit routes of neighbouring countries.[13] In 2015, anti-trafficking units arrested leaders of a Nigerian-based international sex-trafficking ring operating in Barcelona, Spain.[14]

Cases of forced labour have been reported across Europe in agriculture, forestry, fishery, construction, catering, the textile industry, domestic work and other sectors.[15] In the UK, of 3,266 adult and child victims identified in 2015, 1,183 experienced some form of labour exploitation.[16] More recently, Lithuanian gangmasters in the UK were arrested on modern slavery charges for the alleged exploitation of Lithuanian men in a meat supplier factory.[17] In Poland, Vietnamese workers have reported cases of exploitation by their Polish employer, who withheld their passports, confiscated their mobile phones and forced individuals to work 12-13 hour days, six days a week.[18]

The Roma communities are among the most marginalised populations within Europe.[19] Due to poverty and lack of access to public services, some Roma families resort to trafficking their own children, forced marriages or involving them in commercial sexual exploitation as a survival strategy.[20] Roma children are potentially vulnerable to being sold or rented to other individuals for forced begging in countries such as Bulgaria.[21] Within some Bulgarian Roma communities, 'bride kidnapping' continues, where the marriage is legitimised through consummation.[22]

In recent years, forced marriage has become an emerging concern within Europe. Within European discourse, the issue of forced marriage has been increasingly tied to issues of immigration and multiculturalism.[23] To a certain extent, the discourse has raised forced marriage as an imported cultural problem, resulting in policy initiatives focused on repression and tighter immigration controls.[24] Cases of forced marriages have been reported throughout Europe, in countries including Slovakia, Bulgaria, Spain, Germany and the UK.[25] In June 2015, the UK prosecuted their first forced marriage case since enacting forced marriage laws in 2014.[26] The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) reportedly assisted 329 victims under the age of 18 and 427 victims aged between 18 and 25 throughout 2015.[27]

IOM survey on trafficking and exploitation of migrants

In 2016, the IOM began a survey of migrants and refugees in Croatia, Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia travelling along the eastern Mediterranean migration route. The 21-question survey is directed at both understanding their origins and the route taken but also their experiences along the route.

As of March 2016, of the almost 2400 respondents, 7.2 percent reported having experienced indicators of human trafficking themselves during the journey; be it working without being renumerated to the expected amount, being forced to work against their will, being offered employment from a stranger, being approached to arrange a marriage, and being held against their will by nongovernment persons. A further 1.4 percent of respondents understood that a family member had experienced an indicator of trafficking and 0.9 percent identified that they knew of people travelling along the route who had been approached to sell organs, body parts or blood for cash.

Though it is not possible to comprehensively extrapolate these findings to the entire migrant or refugee cohort, it does highlight the reality faced by these vulnerable populations and the likelihood of significant abuse and exploitation along the route. There are several trends among those who answered in the affirmative to an indicator of trafficking. Firstly, on average, persons who experienced these indicators were at least two years younger than those who had not. Secondly, persons travelling in groups were less likely to have experienced an indicator of trafficking than those travelling alone. Thirdly, persons of Afghan, Syrian and Pakistani nationality were more likely to experience exploitation than persons from other backgrounds. Finally, men were more likely to be exploited along the journey than women, though this may be attributable to other factors such as more men travelling, and travelling alone.

RankCountryEstimated percent of population in modern slaveryEstimated number in modern slaveryPopulation
4Bosnia and Herzegovina0.46717,8003,810,000
5Czech Republic0.40442,60010,549,000
11United Kingdom0.01811,70064,856,000
RankCountryEstimated percent of population in modern slaveryEstimated number in modern slaveryPopulation

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International


What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in Europe?

Many European countries rank high on indices of peace, democracy, anti-corruption, human rights and access to social services, all of which provide important protection from vulnerability to exploitation. This is not consistent across Europe, with some countries, notably Kosovo, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece having a higher risk profile, reflecting high political instability, low confidence in the judicial system and high levels of crime, corruption and discrimination.

Average Vulnerability Score


For example, in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Parliament has identified corruption and the judicial system as reform challenges towards accession talks within the EU.[28] In Greece, the turbulent economic situation has increased vulnerability for populations seeking employment and livelihood opportunities. In Greece, unemployment reached 24.4 percent in January 2016 with a youth unemployment rate of 51.9 percent.[29]

In 2015-2016, the European migrant crisis has politically, economically and socially strained the EU with the arrival of more than one million migrants and refugees by land and sea.[30] In the first quarter of 2016, the IOM registered the arrival of 179,614 refugees and migrants with approximately 1,232 people missing or dead.[31]

Irregular migration flows have stemmed from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Many migrants and asylum seekers have made the dangerous journey to Europe by crossing the Aegean, Mediterranean or Alboran Seas using rubber dinghies and wooden boats, or by land through Turkey and the Western Balkans.[32] According to UNHCR data, most of the arrivals are Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani, Eritrean and Somali nationals fleeing internal conflict and political unrest.[33]

Desperate to reach Europe, these asylum seekers and migrants have turned to people smugglers to facilitate their passage.[34]

Migrants and asylum seekers with limited resources are at high risk of being exploited by brokers, recruiters and criminals along the route. Unaccompanied minors and women are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. According to UNHCR victim testimonies, asylum seekers and migrants who have run out of money or have been robbed on the way are more likely to engage in 'survival sex' in order to pay smugglers to continue their journey.[35] In addition, cases of exploited unaccompanied Pakistani boys have been reported, where naked photographs are posted online with demands that their families send money.[36]

In 2015, approximately 70 percent of arrivals to Europe were men, and so far in 2016, this has significantly shifted to approximately 60 percent of women and children.[37] This demographic shift poses significant challenges for European governments, with responsibility to provide protection for these vulnerable groups through provision of gender appropriate services, livelihood opportunities for women, and education for children.

Viola Tudor, a convicted human trafficker, served his sentence at the Timisoara prison in western Romania. Sitting in a visiting room, Tudor wasn’t shy about explaining his role in trafficking, claiming that he helped the girls he sold—and boasting of the monetary temptations of a product that can be sold and resold, over and over, with high profits.

CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean
Bosnia and Herzegovina58.8825.2132.9926.4335.88
Czech Republic27.2219.3831.5527.7826.48
United Kingdom18.4520.3721.8346.5026.79
CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How are governments in Europe tackling modern slavery?

Western European countries typically have well-developed government responses to modern slavery. This reflects a combination of resources but also political will that has resulted in countries in the region agreeing to clear standard setting and independent monitoring efforts. For example, the Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) is a monitoring and reporting mechanism that holds governments in the region accountable for their commitments under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Within the region, 45 countries are signatories to the Convention indicating strong regional cooperation and commitment towards combating crimes of modern slavery.[38]

Average Government Response Rating


All countries in Europe criminalise modern slavery, either in their criminal codes or in specific human trafficking legislation. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Portugal and Croatia have the strongest responses to modern slavery in Europe. Generally, these countries have high scores in measurements on criminal justice, victim support and addressing vulnerability to break the cycle of modern slavery.

These countries have government-funded victim support services, affordable public health care and primary school education systems, specialised anti-trafficking police units, reporting mechanisms, general anti-trafficking police training and all are currently implementing NAPs committed to combating modern slavery, except Sweden. In the UK, the implementation of the also marks progress towards strengthening legislation in combating modern slavery.

Some of the countries in Europe are more affected by corruption and complicity than others. For example, law enforcement complicity, lenient judicial rulings and a lack of victim protection in Romania continue to contribute to the exploitation of vulnerable populations. In 2015, Lithuanian police launched an investigation into the director of a state-run orphanage, allegedly operating a child sex-trafficking ring. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, local police have reportedly accepted bribes and sexual services in exchange for notifying brothel and nightclub owners in advance of police raids.

In October 2015, the UK enacted the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015. This requires companies with an annual turnover of £36 million or more report on steps they have taken to safeguard their global supply chains from modern slavery.[43] This will affect approximately 17,000 UK businesses which will impact global supply chains around the world.[44] This initiative has not yet been matched by developments in the legislation of other European countries.

The Netherlands’ leading response

The Government of the Netherlands’ approach to addressing modern slavery is the most comprehensive in Europe and the world. The Government shows strong commitment to combating modern slavery crimes through comprehensive legislation, an independent National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence Against Children, a National Referral Mechanism and a Task Force on Human Trafficking. The mandate of the Task Force has been extended until 2017 to broaden the fight against human trafficking focusing on labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and abuse in the prostitution sector.[45]

The Dutch Government is proactive in wide-ranging efforts to prevent and identify modern slavery victims. In June 2015, the National Referral Mechanism, comprising of the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, established a central website to inform assistance workers, victims and members of the public.[46] The aim of the website is to educate the community, and link victims and assistance workers to relevant organisations, like shelter and care institutions or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.[47]

The Netherlands currently faces the challenge of dealing with an influx of Syrian refugees, some of whom may have been subjected to forced labour or forced marriage. Between September 2015 and January 2016 around 60 Syrian child brides entered the country.[48] In 2015, the Netherlands Marechaussee arrested approximately 330 suspects, an increase of 60 compared to 2014. Around 200 suspects were arrested during Mobile Security Monitoring Checks (MTVs), 25 percent of whom had Dutch nationality, 15 percent of whom had Syrian nationality. [49] In 2015, the government also reported they would increase the available prison sentence for human trafficking from four to six years.[50]

The Netherlands recognises the centrality of cooperating with source and transit countries. The government has made agreements with Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania to combat the structure of trafficking and the investigation of specific cases.[51] In 2016, Project TeamWork!, a joint project between the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Malta, launched a manual for experts on cooperation against trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation.[52]

Company reporting requirements under UK Modern Slavery Act 2015

In 2015, the UK Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act. One of the innovations of this legislation is a requirement that British companies with a turnover of £36 million or more are required to publish a statement detailing what steps—if any— are taken to eradicate slavery within their business and supply chains.

It is currently impossible to tell categorically how many companies have complied because there is no central register of these reports. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has maintained an informal register; as of 1 March 2016, 83 companies have provided statements.[53] While Ergon found 100 companies had reported as of 15 March 2016.[54]

The companies that have made statements are diverse and include famous national fashion brands such as Jigsaw, tea suppliers, construction organisations and manufacturers, recruitment agencies, and even the Birmingham Airport. There are even statements from three companies who were not required to report.

However, merely issuing a statement does not fulfil the requirements under s54 by default. To comply with the Act, this statement must be signed by a company director or equivalent, and have a URL link from the company’s website.

Notably, only 22 of the 83 statements that appear on the BHHR site meet both the legal requirements under the Act— therefore, less than 27 percent of the published statements comply with the Act’s basic requirements. Further, only nine statements met both these requirements and provided further information on six suggested criteria under s54(5) of the Act. Interestingly, the statement released by the Birmingham Airport was not signed by a director or equivalent as required under s54(6); however, it did contain a link per s54(7). The statement from Jigsaw did not fulfil either legal requirement, nor did it report on the criteria suggested.

These initial findings point to a clear step that can be taken by the government to improve the reporting requirement. The difficulty uncovering which companies have reported suggests the need for a central register which members of the public can access. If the Act relies on consumer pressure to drive corporate action, then consumers must have access to the information.

For more information on the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, please see

Credit RatingCountrySurvivors SupportedCriminal JusticeCoordination & AccountabilityAddressing RiskGovernment & BusinessTotal Score
BBBUnited Kingdom74.6379.0743.7569.0537.5067.12
BBCzech Republic54.8150.7456.2566.670.0053.19
BBosnia and Herzegovina57.4143.7031.2569.050.0048.54
Credit RatingCountrySurvivors SupportedCriminal JusticeCoordination & AccountabilityAddressing RiskGovernment & BusinessTotal Score

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR


  1. Eurostat, Trafficking in Human Beings, (European Union, 2015), p. 39, accessed 16/03/2016: — while published in 2015, this report reflects data collected from 2010–2012.
  2. Eurostat, Trafficking in Human Beings, (European Union, 2015), p. 39, accessed 16/03/2016: ; see also United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Trafficking in Persons; Analysis on Europe, (United Nations, 2009), p. 12, accessed 11/04/2016:,–/Trafficking_in_Persons_in_Europe_09.pdf
  3. Eurostat, Trafficking in Human Beings, (European Union, 2015), p. 39, accessed 16/03/2016:
  4. As above
  5. Charles Sennott, 'Syrian youth come of age through five years of war', PBS Newshour, March 2015, accessed 18/03/2016:
  6. "Eurpol estimates 10,000 underage refugee children have gone missing", European Council on Refugees and Exiles, accessed 21/04/2016:
  7. 'Migrant crisis: More than 10,000 children 'missing'', BBC News, January 31, 2016, accessed 16/03/2016:
  8. Eurostat, Trafficking in Human Beings, (European Union, 2015), p. 35, accessed 16/03/2016:
  9. Andrea Bruce, 'Romania’s Disappearing Girls', Al Jazeera America, August 9, 2015, accessed 16/03/2016:
  10. Trafficking in Persons to Europe for sexual exploitation, (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), p. 3, accessed 21/04/2016:
  11. A. Oluwabiyi, 'Legal Response to Women Trafficking in Nigeria', Frontiers of Legal Research 3, no.1 (March 2015): 2, doi: 10.3968/6078. 
  12. National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2015, (National Crime Agency, 2016), accessed 21/04/2016:
  13. European Asylum Support Office, Nigeria Sex Trafficking of Women, (European Asylum Support Office, 2015), p. 33, accessed 21/04/2016:
  14. 'The world of Nigeria’s sex-trafficking ‘Air Lords'', BBC News, last modified 27/1/2016,
  15. Eurostat, Trafficking in Human Beings, (European Union, 2015), p. 23, accessed 21/04/2016:
  16. National Crime Agency, National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2015, (National Crime Agency 2016), p. 4, accessed 28/03/2016:
  17. Felicity Lawrence, 'Lithuanian gangmasters jailed in modern slavery and trafficking case', The Guardian, January 23, 2016, accessed 29/03/2016:
  18. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Severe Labour Exploitation: workers moving within or into the European Union, (European Union, 2015), p. 50, accessed 11/04/2016:
  19. "Improving Living Conditions for Marginalized Roma", The World Bank, last modified 18/03/2015:
  20. Kate D’Arcy and Isabelle Brodie, 'Roma Children and Young People in Bulgaria: Patterns of Risk and Effective Protection in Relation to Child Sexual Exploitation', Social Inclusion 3, no.4 (July 2015): 7,
  21. Centre for the Study of Democracy, Child Trafficking Among Vulnerable Groups, (Centre for the Study of Democracy, 2015), p. 30, accessed 20/04/2016:
  22. Emma Psaila, Vanessa Leigh, Marilena Verbari, Sara Fiorentini et al., Forced Marriage from a gender perspective, (European Parliament, 2016), p. 70, accessed 13/04/2016:
  23. Alexia Sabbe et al., 'Forced marriage: an analysis of legislation and political measures in Europe', Crime, Law and Social Change 62, no.1, (August, 2014), doi: 10.1007/s10611-014-9534-6; see also: Kenan Malik, 'The Failure of Multiculturalism', Foreign Affairs, March/April 2015, accessed 13/04/2016:
  24. As above. 
  25. Emma Psaila, Vanessa Leigh, Marilena Verbari, Sara Fiorentini et al., Forced Marriage from a gender perspective, (European Parliament, 2016), pp. 60–68, accessed 13/04/2016:
  26. 'Forced marriage jail first as Cardiff man sentenced', BBC News, last modified 10/06/2015:
  27. "Forced Marriage Unit Statistics 2015", Foreign and Commonwealth Office, last modified 08/03/2016:
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  29. "Greek unemployment rate", Trading Economics, accessed 20/04/2016:
  30. "Irregular Migrant, Refugee Arrivals in Europe Top One Million in 2015: IOM", International Organisation for Migration, accessed 18/03/2016:
  31. "Mediterranean Update 20 April, 2016", International Organisation for Migration, accessed 21/04/2016:
  32. "Migratory Routes Map", Frontex, accessed 21/04/2016:
  33. "Refugees/ Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean", UNHCR, accessed 22/03/2016:
  34. Liz Alderman, 'Smugglers Prey on Migrants Desperate to Find Back Doors to Europe', The New York Times, March 11, 2016, accessed 28/03/2016:
  35. Federica Marsi, 'Female refugees face sexual exploitation in Greece', Al Jazeera, December 28, 2015, accessed 11/04/2016:
  36. Liz Alderman, 'Smugglers Prey on Migrants Desperate to Find Back Doors to Europe', The New York Times, March 11, 2016, accessed 28/03/2016:
  37. Nils Muižnieks, 'Human rights of refugee and migrant women and girls need to be better protected', The Commissioner’s Human Rights Comments, March 7, 2016, accessed 16/03/2016:
  38. "Status of Signature and Ratification of the Convention", Council of Europe, accessed April 13, 2016,
  39. Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Sweden, (Council of Europe, 2014), p. 13, accessed 12/04/2016:
  40. Andrea Bruce, 'Romania’s Disappearing Girls', Al Jazeera America, August 9, 2015, accessed 18/03/2016:
  41. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Lithuania Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2015), p. 225, accessed 29/03/2016:
  42. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2015), p. 95, accessed 29/03/2016:
  43. "UK Modern Slavery Act comes into effect", Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, accessed March 16, 2016,
  44. Amelia Gentleman, 'UK firms must show proof they have no links to slave labour under new rules', The Guardian, October 29, 2015,
  45. 'Opstelten: Task Force Strengthens and Broadens Approach to Human Trafficking', Government of the Netherlands, December 3, 2014, accessed 27/04/2016:
  46. "Signpost Trafficking", Government of the Netherlands, accessed 27/04/2016:
  47. 'On-Line Signpost to Help Victims in the Fight Against Human Trafficking', Government of the Netherlands, June 18, 2015, accessed 27/04/2016:
  48. 'National Rapporteur concerned about Syrian child brides and Roma children', The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence Against Children, April 14, 2016, accessed 27/04/2016:
  49. 'The Number of Detentions for Human Trafficking Increased in 2015', Government of the Netherlands,Febuary 5, 2016, accessed 27/04/2016:
  50. The Number of Detentions for Human Trafficking Increased in 2015', Government of the Netherlands,Febuary 5, 2016, accessed 27/04/2016:
  51. 'Opstelten: Task Force Strengthens and Broadens Approach to Human Trafficking', Government of the Netherlands, December 3, 2014, accessed 27/04/2016:
  52. 'Manual for Experts on Multidisciplinary Cooperation Against Trafficking in Human Beings for Labour Exploitation', Government of the Netherlands, January 18, 2016,accessed 27/04/2016:
  53. 'Registry of Slavery & Human Trafficking Statements Under UK Modern Slavery Act', Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, March 1, 2016, accessed 22/04/2016:
  54. 'Reporting on Modern Slavery: The First Hundred Statements', Ergon, March 2016, accessed 22/04/2016:


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