As the football World Cup 2006 gets underway, a German NGO has launched a campaign against human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. According to German police sources, fears that the number of women trafficked for sex work during the games might go into the tens of thousands have failed to materialize. Even so, the organizers believe that even one trafficked person is too many. The ILO examined the trafficking situation in general at a meeting in Berlin last week. Nicola Liebert from the ILO Berlin office reports.
BERLIN (ILO Online) - It's a story that has been told many times before. Two Bulgarian women are promised legal jobs in Germany. A man asks them to accompany him to a wedding and promises to arrange their employment afterwards.
Instead of a wedding and a job, they find themselves trapped into forced sex work. Their passports were confiscated, they are separated and handed over to persons who lock them up in rooms for the availability of clients seeking sex. When the women refuse, they are beaten.
Such cases are far too common. According to the 2005 ILO report on "Trafficking for Labour and Sexual Exploitation in Germany", by Norbert Cyrus, public attention is drawn to human trafficking and forced labour in industrialised countries only rarely. The football world championship taking place in Germany from June 9 to July 9, 2006, is one of those occasions. Experience with similar large-scale events shows that demand for sex services during the World Cup is likely to increase. Women's and human rights organisations worry that this could lead to an increase in human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
The illegal nature of commercial sex trafficking renders data gathering difficult. Police sources say fears that the number of women forced into sex work during the games might go into the tens of thousands haven't been borne out.
"But even if it were only one single woman, it would be one too many," says Marion Steiner, who chairs the campaign "Final Whistle - Stop Forced Prostitution" which was initiated by the German Women's Council (Deutscher Frauenrat) and is supported by, among others, the ILO. "Every such case is a violation of human rights". Ms. Steiner goes on to explain: "While the campaign used the football world championship in Germany as a starting point, our aim is to draw attention to this problem not just during the World Cup and not just in Germany".
The problem isn't limited to the sex industry. Forced labourers have been discovered in the course of ILO investigations of domestic service including child care, agriculture and meat processing, restaurant and catering work, sweat shops, fun fairs, construction, transport and advertisement leaflet distribution.
Matthias Kirchner, general secretary of the Munich based European Migrant Workers' Union, believes the problem is getting worse: "In the meat industry and in construction we often come across cases of forced labour, and we witness the victims' total dependence on their traffickers". Those workers get paid much less than the law or the collective bargaining agreements stipulate, and especially towards the end of the term of their employment don't receive any pay at all but generally cannot sue their employer.
Kirchner explains "They don't know whom to turn to, they don't speak the language, and they have no money on which to survive - so even if the law may be on their side, it is not enough for them to get their right and reclaim their dignity".
Prosecution and protection need to go hand in hand
At a workshop held at the ILO office in Berlin on 8 June, the case of a Chinese cook was cited to illustrate these difficulties. The cook was recruited in China and received a work permit for Germany. However, upon arrival his papers were taken away, he was locked up and forced to work excessively long hours with hardly any pay. Eventually he made it to the police, clutching a paper slip with the word "Help" on it. It took the police officers quite some time to understand that the man was a victim of human trafficking. The officers themselves then found him another job that allows him to stay in Germany so that he may serve as a witness in legal proceedings.
At the Berlin workshop the participants from various ministries, police and immigration authorities, counselling and aid projects as well as scientists and ILO experts agreed that "prosecution and protection for victims need to go hand in hand, because the victims play such a central role in the proceedings", as Holger Bernsee of the Berlin Office of Criminal Investigation put it. "We definitely need to do more on the victims' side".
Male victims have fewer aid projects available to them. Participants suggested the creation of a working group to coordinate the activities of public authorities on federal, state and local level as well as civil society groups against human trafficking and forced labour practices.
A similar working group already exists for female trafficking and forced sex work. Moreover, the government supports a large range counselling and assistance services as well as special training programmes for police and public prosecutors. Telephone hotlines for both victims and clients have been set up specifically for the period of the football World Cup.
The campaign "Final Whistle - Stop Forced Prostitution" also recommends the governments of the countries of destination provide assistance to the countries of origin to promote economic independence of women, support local counselling and aid projects, and provide information on safe and legal migration options as well as on tricks used by traffickers. The ILO has, in collaboration with member States and social partners, developed ways of freeing forced labourers, compensating victims and providing support for them to mitigate the economic need that often stands at the beginning of human trafficking.
In the case of the two Bulgarian women, the story ended on a positive note. After two weeks both victims managed to escape. They went to the police and were sent to a counselling centre. As likely witnesses in a trafficking investigation, both women received shelter and the opportunity to remain in Germany for the duration of the investigation and trial. A relative happy ending, but a cautionary one. Much remains to be done to prevent them from happening at all.