The coalition agreement of the governing parties of March 2018 commits the Federal Government to fighting labour exploitation effectively. Chapter V (good work) of the agreement states: "We want to continue, consolidate and intensify our strategy for the fight against forced labour, child labour and labour exploitation." The enforcement of human rights is also a focus of chapter XII on international peace and security policy (p. 157).
In June 2014, the International Labour Organization adopted a legally-binding protocol and a recommendation supplementing ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labour. Germany submitted its instrument of ratification for this convention to the ILO in June 2019.
Germany transposed EU Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings into national law through the Act to Improve Action Against Human Trafficking and to Amend the Federal Central Criminal Register Act and Book VIII of the Social Code of 11 October 2016 (Federal Law Gazette 2016, Part 1 No. 48 of 14 October 2016). In 2012, Germany ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings of 2005. At present, Germany is already conducting the second review of the implementation of this law.
In 2015, the establishment of a working group made up of the German Federal Government and the Länder was a first step towards creating support structures and improving the protection of victims. The working group brings together representatives of the competent Federal Government and Länder ministries, among them those responsible for labour and social affairs, the Federal Criminal Police, trade unions and employers, specialised counselling centres working with victims of human trafficking and other actors such as social security funds and the customs unit fighting against undeclared work (FKS in German). Moreover, Germany is also involving numerous representatives of other countries and international organisations such as the ILO, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the activities of this working group. The German Institute for Human Rights, the Alliance against Human Trafficking for Labour Exploitation and the welfare organisations of the Catholic and Protestant churches (Caritas and Diakonie) and members of the academic community are also part of these efforts. This broad coalition has already taken an important step: There is a network of all relevant stakeholders and a dialogue among them aimed at fighting human trafficking.
In February 2015, the initial meeting of the working group on the issue of combating human trafficking for labour exploitation was held at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. In 2017, the working group adopted a strategic concept for the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation as the basis for its future work.
The concept consists of six strategic goals:
- expanding prevention
- raising awareness on the part of public authorities and improving the identification of victims
- expanding counselling and support structures
- strengthening prosecution - reviewing the effectiveness of the new criminal law
- improving the data basis
- raising public awareness
The way forward
In 2017, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs established a service centre at “Arbeit und Leben Berlin e.V.” (German Trade Union Confederation Berlin-Brandenburg) on the basis of the joint strategy for the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation. Its mandate is to support the creation and expansion of sustainable nationwide cooperation structures for the prevention of human trafficking and labour exploitation, the protection of victims and the effective prosecution of perpetrators. The service centre also organises awareness-raising training seminars for dealing with cases of labour exploitation and human trafficking.
In November 2018, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs hosted a workshop on the topic “Labour exploitation, forced labour, human trafficking and effective criminal prosecution - Overcoming challenges after the 2016 reform”. With the involvement of the service centre against labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking set up by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, public prosecutors from six Länder discussed the criminal offences of human trafficking, forced labour, labour exploitation and exploitation involving deprivation of liberty, which were reformed in 2016 (sections 232-233a of the German Criminal Code). The Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection is planning a review of the practical effectiveness of the revised criminal provisions in 2020 and 2021. The timing was chosen because by then enough cases involving the revised criminal provisions should be available for an evaluation. Against this backdrop, a second meeting of public prosecutors was held at the ministry in November 2019.
In March 2019, the working group made up of the Federal Government and the Länder led by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth organised a joint forum on the fight against human trafficking to promote exchange between the relevant actors. Topics discussed during the forum included reforms of social compensation law, the draft legislation against illegal employment and social benefit abuse as well as the exploitation of children and child trafficking.
As part of the new Act against illegal employment and the abuse of social benefits of 11 July 2019 and the ensuing expansion of the mandate of the customs unit fighting against undeclared work to include the criminal offences of human trafficking in the context of forced labour and labour exploitation, the existing cooperation between the Central Customs Authority (Directorate VII) and the service centre has been intensified. In particular, there are plans for training seminars and awareness-raising among the staff members of the customs unit fighting against undeclared work at the main custom authorities.
Due to a high number of COVID-19 infections, working conditions in German slaughterhouses have been discussed and addressed prominently. A sector analysis published by the service centre in July 2020, outlines indicators for exploitation and forced labour in the meat industry and parcel delivery sectors and provides policy recommendations in the areas of prevention, the fight against these practices and the protection of victims.
The service centre has made the sector analysis and a wealth of practical materials and information on labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking available on a specialised online portal. The practical legal glossary (in German) contributes to better criminal prosecution of labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking. A comprehensive database (in German) enables website users to find specialised counselling services all over Germany. A summary of Land-specific victim protection structures and the fight against labour exploitation and forced labour in the various Länder can be accessed on the specialised portal through an interactive overview of the Länder (in German).
In an effort to fight human trafficking for labour exploitation sustainably and take due account of the strategy, the service centre’s activities will continue beyond 2020.
Human trafficking also has a cross-border nature, which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to fight. This is why it is all the more important to work together internationally and to coordinate national strategies at the European level. There are plans to do more on both fronts. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and the Council of Baltic Sea States are both addressing these issues.
Along with other legally-binding documents such as the Palermo Protocol (Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime), the 2005 Council of European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and EU Directive 2011/36 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims serve as the international law framework for Germany. Germany ratified the 2005 Council of Europe Convention against human trafficking in 2012. At present, Germany is already conducting the second review of the implementation of this law. Germany transposed EU Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings into national law through the Act to Improve Action Against Human Trafficking and to Amend the Federal Central Criminal Register Act and Book VIII of the Social Code of 11 October 2016 (Federal Law Gazette 2016, Part 1 No. 48 of 14 October 2016). The Act reformed the criminal offences of human trafficking, forced labour, labour exploitation and exploitation involving deprivation of liberty (sections 232-233a of the German Criminal Code).
Moreover, the ILO modernised its Convention No. 29 on forced labour, which dates back to 1930. The new Protocol to the Convention is binding under international law and now also deals with practices of human trafficking. Its goal is to step up international efforts aimed at the abolition of forced labour. Germany ratified the 2014 ILO Protocol to Convention No. 29 on forced labour (1930) on 31 May 2019. By ratifying this ILO Protocol on one of the most important ILO core labour standards (force labour), Germany also contributed to the ratification initiative on the occasion of the ILO centenary in 2019, strengthening the ILO’s role within the multilateral system and the effective enforcement of international labour and social standards.