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:EUROPOL: 21 arrested for labour exploitation and 261 victims identified

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Authorities target food and delivery services, beauty salons, and transport and construction sectors during EU-wide Joint Action Days

Between 10 and 17 June 2023 Europol coordinated EMPACT Joint Action Days (JADs) targeting human trafficking for labour exploitation purposes. The JADs were led by the Netherlands, and carried out by law enforcement and labour authorities from 31 countries with support from Eurojust, the European Labour Authority and Frontex.

Over 27 000 officers carried out inspections in a total of 11 360 locations in a range of sectors, including gastronomy, agriculture and the beauty industry, focusing in particular on the exploitation of non-EU nationals and refugees. Over the span of the action week, 65 839 individuals and 22 958 vehicles were checked. As a result of these checks, 57 suspects were identified and 21 were arrested for labour exploitation, with a total of 261 victims identified. Data gathered during the operation has led to the launch of 86 new investigations in order to identify further potential suspects and victims linked to human trafficking cases across the EU and abroad. This interlinked approach, which involved both law enforcement and labour authorities, facilitated the exchange of information and knowledge about human trafficking indicators.

Food and delivery services targeted

Each participating authority screened for the most prominent forms of labour exploitation in their respective jurisdiction. National and regional police bodies, border guards, labour authorities and labour inspectorates worked hand-in-glove to identify, safeguard and protect victims of labour exploitation. Inspections were mostly carried out in labour-intensive sectors which require low-skilled workers. Employees in industries such as transport, logistics and construction are more vulnerable to exploitation due to factors such as the informal, unstable and underpaid nature of their work and a lack of agency to seek justice if their rights are violated.

The operational activities targeted a range of sectors, including food and meat processing, restaurants, delivery and food delivery services, beauty salons, construction, mining, transportation and agriculture. Checks took place at key border crossing points in countries of origin, transit and destination. Officials also targeted the labour exploitation of housekeepers and caregivers at home. In total, 70 661 documents were checked during the action week, as human traffickers often rely on the use of fraudulent and false documents.

Vulnerable groups targeted for exploitation

As part of the joint actions, authorities from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom targeted a specific restaurant chain. Labour and social security inspectorates – together with customs, police, food safety and occupational safety and health agencies – conducted simultaneous checks in 15 restaurants across Europe. Some locations were closed immediately and several fines were imposed on the spot.

Inspections by the Dutch Labour Inspectorate performed in Indian restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Almere led to the identification of least five undeclared employees without valid employment permits. The victims, facing poor working conditions, were underpaid and had to work longer hours than permitted. Authorities also focused on identifying criminal networks exploiting the Ukrainian war as refugees fleeing warzones represent a particularly vulnerable group. The involved authorities worked closely together to identify possible perpetrators and victims.

Europol’s role

Europol supported the action week around the clock with analysts processing data shared by the participating authorities. Europol coordinated the action days and facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries. Europol provided analytical and operational support 24/7 and facilitated the real-time exchange of communication between the participating authorities and deployed experts to help investigators on the ground. The close collaboration between labour authorities and law enforcement significantly contributed to the success of the action fighting human trafficking.

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