Forced labour

Action to prevent and prosecute human trafficking in Guatemala

The project aims to enhance the institutional capacities of key stakeholders to enforce the new TIP legal framework, through a victim-centered approach, providing protection and assistance to victims of TIP and forced labor and to those groups most vulnerable to exploitation, especially indigenous peoples.


Guatemala has taken significant steps to address trafficking in persons (TIP), in particular through the enactment of a Decree modifying the Penal Code (February 2009). However, this new legal framework is not yet well known, nor is it sufficiently enforced at central and local levels. Identified or prosecuted TIP cases are extremely few, and the victim assistance system is weak. This proposal aims to address these gaps in Guatemala’s current response to TIP. It will enhance the institutional capacities of key stakeholders to enforce the new TIP legal framework, through a victim-centered approach, providing protection and assistance to victims of TIP and forced labor and to those groups most vulnerable to exploitation, especially indigenous peoples. In the past, major campaigns on the prevention of trafficking for sexual exploitation have been carried out in the country. This project will instead focus on trafficking for labor exploitation, based on the demonstrated need for programs in this area. The current proposal is fully in line with J/TIP priorities regarding training for law enforcement officers and enhancing victim services.

Guatemala is a country of origin, transit and destination for TIP. Internal trafficking for forced labor exists mainly in agriculture and in domestic service, in particular in the regions close to the Mexican border and in the highland (Altiplano) region. The indigenous population is particularly vulnerable to situations of labor exploitation and forced labor. Guatemala's health and social indicators are very low, especially regarding indigenous peoples (60% of the population). According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “The situation of indigenous peoples changed little during 2010: 73% are poor (as opposed to 35% of the non-indigenous population), and 26% are extremely poor.” This, combined with their limited access to land, renders rural inhabitants extremely dependent on their employers and thus vulnerable to abusive working conditions. According to a recent ILO survey conducted in four departments , an estimated 35,800 households had at least one adult victim of forced labor, and 21,400 had at least one child victim. Overall, almost one in four households was affected by forced labor of one or more of its members. Most forced labor was found in the agricultural sector.

Many migrant seasonal workers are victims of internal TIP. They are recruited through intermediaries at their place of origin, mostly in the Western Altiplano, in the San Marcos area. Some intermediaries are professionals, working in compliance with the law. Others are illegal, recruiting workers through a form of bonded labor. The “enganche” or “habilitación” is the advance payment made to the workers to indebt them to the employer, and is used to maintain them on farms in the tropical and coastal areas . Male workers often migrate with family members who may work without being paid. Employers tend to recruit small groups of workers for short periods, in order to avoid any possibility for workers to organize to claim their rights. In addition, according to the national law, a contract becomes formal only after two months, so employers often give contracts less than this time limit. If workers want to work for a longer period, they might be compelled by the employer to use ID documents from someone else, or to move to another farm belonging to the same family or company, in order to circumvent the law.

The project responds to a strong demand from local partners for technical assistance from the ILO in this field. It will build on the on-going support being provided by the ILO to workers’ organizations (Confederación General de Trabajadores de Guatemala CGTG, Confederación de Unidad Sindical de Guatemala CUSG, and Unión Sindical de Trabajadores de Guatemala, UNSITRAGUA) on promoting fundamental principles and rights at work, including the elimination of forced labor. National stakeholders from the Government, particularly the Ministry of Labor, social partners and human rights’ organizations agree that the labor inspection system must be strengthened, modernized and provided with more resources, both human and financial, in order to enforce labor law in farms far from the coast, where violations are most rampant, especially in the banana and sugar cane industries. The project will complement the on-going work of other organizations including IOM and the NGOs ECPAT, Asociación la Alianza and el Refugio, that implement projects focusing on the provision of direct care to victims of trafficking, principally those trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. The current project will rather focus on victims of trafficking for labor exploitation, thus adding value to existing initiatives.


Objective 1: By the end of project, the prevention of trafficking for labor exploitation has been enhanced through the adoption of relevant policies and the strengthening of coordination mechanisms
Objective 2: By the end of project, the capacity of the criminal and labor justice systems has been enhanced to better investigate, prosecute and convict offenders, and to ensure compliance in target sectors
Objective 3: By the end of project, awareness of vulnerable groups (with a focus on indigenous peoples) in selected areas has been raised on risks of trafficking in persons and on effective prevention strategies

Main Activities

Project activities are designed to better prosecute and prevent trafficking in persons. Main stakeholders are the Public Ministry, The Labor Ministry, The Secretary against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (SVET), Workers Associations and Employers Chainbers.
  1. Review, update and disseminate the existing Public Policy for Counter Trafficking.
  2. Update and disseminate the existing comprehensive assistance protocols (Repatriation and Assistance).
  3. Collect and analyze court cases on forced labor and trafficking in persons from Latin America.
  4. Train the Specialized Prosecuting Unit in the Public Ministry in Strategic Litigation.
  5. Design and produce informational materials on trafficking for labor exploitation (with particular focus on source areas for trafficking and vulnerable populations).
  6. Provide technical assistance and support to empower indigenous people organizations to prevent and raise awareness on trafficking for labor exploitation within their communities.
  7. Carry out awareness-raising activities.


  1. Improved action and coordination of key policy makers in order to implement policy, plans and programmes more efficiently.
  2. Capacity of coordination mechanisms (CIT, CONAPETI, SVET) strengthened to address trafficking for labor exploitation
  3. By the end of the project correct repatriation processes are being followed by primary assistance providers
  4. Publications of the protocols for protection and assistance of trafficking victims are disseminated to main stakeholders and service providers
  5. Judges aware of and consult Latin American court cases compiled.
  6. Institutional mechanisms created to support investigation of trafficking cases and inter-agency coordination.
  7. Increased capacity of indigenous peoples’ groups (NGOs) to prevent trafficking for labor exploitation through their own campaigns and actions
  8. indigenous communities and organizations are made aware on trafficking for labor exploitation.


The Project is oriented to work in close coordination with the Public Ministry, Labor Ministry, SVET, Workers Associations and Employers Chaimbers In order to better prevent and prosecute trafficking in persons, labor exploitation and forced labor. Many of the project activities are coordinated with one or more of these partners.


Direct beneficiaries: Government officials responsible for the prosecution and prevention of trafficking in persons, workers associations, employers chaimbers and indigenous communities in Huehuetenango.