Between 31 May and 6 June 2021, Europol provided support for coordinated action on a European scale against the trafficking of persons for forced labour purposes. The operation, directed by the Netherlands, involved a wide range of public authorities, including police forces, Customs officers and border guards, labour inspectors and tax authorities. In total, 23 countries participated in the coordinated operations.
The week of coordinated action involved:
• 229 arrests (73 for people trafficking)
• 630 identified potential victims of different types of exploitation
• Over 4,890 proved locations
• 16,530 vehicles checked
• 56,250 persons checked
• 750 new investigations opened, 150 related to people trafficking.
The police authorities carried out checks in manpower-intensive sectors of activity that require only workers with low-level skills. Employees in sectors such as transport, logistics and the construction industry are more vulnerable to exploitation because of the lower level of education and awareness that they require in terms of labour rights and people trafficking. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced certain feelings of vulnerability. For example, victims accept employment in working conditions that may threaten their health. The factors that endanger their health include mass labour environments, low levels of hygiene and an absence of health care.
The risks of exploitation vary depending on the sector. Transport companies give work to many nationals from third countries, who are exposed to the risks of exploitation linked to travelling in overtime periods and very low wages. Another objective of the checks was also the labour exploitation of domestic workers employed for 24 hours a day to look after persons or animals. Some sectors of employment such as nail-bars have been linked to the exploitation of victims of Vietnamese origin. Their vulnerability often increases due to the debt-slavery caused by their journeys to the European Union. The authorities also focused on the potential exploitation of migrants awaiting refugee status during their asylum application procedures. Another focus-point was the facilitators involved in people trafficking, specifically in relation to the use of false and fraudulent documents.
Europol coordinated the action days and facilitated the exchanging of information between the participating countries. It thus provided analytical and operational support on a 24/7 basis and facilitated the exchanging of communications in real time between the participating authorities.