Final DemandAT Conference: Conclusions from a European policy perspective

Final DemandAT Conference: Conclusions from a European policy perspective

By Suzanne Hoff

La Strada International

May 2017

The final conference of the DemandAT project took place in Brussels on 10 May 2017. The following are the conclusions from a European policy perspective as seen from the perspective of one of the partner organisations: La Strada International. These conclusions were presented in the final panel of the conference.

  1. Demand needs to become an understandable and useful term and  to inform tools that can be used in practice, instead of remaining a vague, artificial or political term. The DemandAT research found that the term ‘demand’ is used in a range of different ways. General prevention measures, measures to prosecute traffickers or investigate the crime and or any measures to address human trafficking, have all been referred to as demand side measures. This flexible usage might be a result of the ‘positive obligation by states to take measures on addressing demand’, according to the Council of Europe convention and later also the EU directive of 2011. However, this broad interpretation hampers policy measures that should address demand that might foster exploitation and human trafficking.   It is therefore recommended by the DemandAT research consortium to avoid expanding the concept and instead restrict its usage to meaning of ‘willingness and capacity to purchase a good or service’, ensuring that  demand-side interventions refer to counter trafficking policies and measures that shape the purchaser side in a market context.

  2. When  using  the term ‘demand’ as outlined above, it is necessary to distinguish between the services or products the demand is related to, and the exploitation and abuse that occurs. We should be clear that a demand for the services of domestic workers, construction workers, sex workers, or for products as tomatoes and fish, do not necessarily and automatically mean there is need or demand for exploited labour.  Demand as such is not necessarily negative. The demand for cheap labour or cheap services in general however might already much more relate to exploitation. So, when taking demand-side measures, it should be clearly defined how these measures actually address exploitation and abuse. DemandAT research findings showed us that in particular economic factors, social norms and discrimination, as well as policies and regulations play a major role in the exploitation and abuse of in particular migrant workers, regardless of the sector in which they worked or the services they offered.

  3. Moreover, anti-trafficking policies, including demand-side measures, need to be context specific and custom made for different national situations. Anti-trafficking policies do not function in a vacuum, but operate within relevant national and international legal contexts. Exploitation in agriculture and construction, in domestic work and prostitution is embedded in sectors with different characteristics.  In particular, as other policies, for example those related to labour, regulations on prostitution, domestic work and other sectors and migration impact on the trafficking situation and also on measures taken to discourage or reduce demand.  For example, undocumented immigration status makes workers vulnerable and can force them to accept much lower work conditions in order to survive. Tied visas make domestic workers more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from the side of their employers as found in the DemandAT study on domestic work.

  4. Further, it should be ensured that any given ‘demand-side’ measure must address all forms of human trafficking and are not solely focused on the sex industry. There are also many other sectors that are vulnerable for exploitation and abuse. Currently you see that EU Member States that proposed ‘to establish as a criminal offence the use of services which are the objects of exploitation’ in line with article 18 (4) of the EU directive 2011/36 on combating human trafficking, solely focused on criminalising clients of sex workers.

  5. Instead of criminalising sectors, services or workers or consumers, which LSI opposes, states should take measures  to make undesirable forms of demand less likely. States can use market-based incentives such as taxes and subsidies for companies and employers, or use measures promoting specific values or behaviours through peer pressure to influence demand for cheap and exploitable labour. In addition, better monitoring of the compliance of labour regulations is needed, next to  sanctions  for those that do not comply. The same for  regulations in place to ensure transparency and clean supply chains. Perpetrators of (severe forms of) labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking should be criminalised; like  those responsible for the recruitment, transfer or exploitation of persons with the intention to exploit them, as defined under human trafficking legislation.  As we all know the prosecution of traffickers is lagging behind.

  6. A strong focus is also needed on reducing the of vulnerability of workers. Ensuring adequate information to workers on their rights and decent working conditions in any labour sector, regulated or not and ensuring access to empowerment, protection and support with  complaint mechanisms and remedies for all workers, including undocumented ones, is necessary. Currently labour inspections focus in particular on combating of undeclared and bogus forms of employment and to a great extent on undeclared migrant labour. However, it is very difficult to detect cases, when irregular migrants do not dare to report violation for fear of being sanctioned for migration offences. 

  7. When trying to take  demand measures to address human trafficking,  we all should be aware that these measures cannot solely combat human trafficking and do not work in isolation. Other preventive and protection measures are clearly needed, in partnership with all stakeholders engaged in tackling human trafficking. When looking at demand, we should also look at supply and at all root causes that are behind human trafficking.

  8. Prevention activity, including campaigns to make persons more aware and ensure that exploitation and human trafficking is identified and reported, is needed too. However, the DemandAT research revealed that awareness-raising campaigns should require specific actions to be taken by the target audience. For instance, changing their choice for products or services or by reporting of suspicious occurrences to the police or NGOs. Awareness raising alone, with no action attached to it, seems not to lead to reduction of exploitation and human trafficking.

  9. When defining ‘measures on demand’, stakeholders should make use of the best practices  found via the DemandAT research. For instance, building alliances with workers, as the analysis of cases clearly indicates that involving workers of the sector increases the impact of initiatives. Multi-stakeholder cooperation, including involvement of trade unions and NGOs helps to ensure success of initiatives.

  10. We should keep in mind at all times the need to make the best use possible of the available evidence and to improve the evaluation of measures taken to assess impact.  Measures to discourage and reduce the demand for certain services, even though they might foster forms of exploitation, do not necessarily have a positive effect or an impact on reducing human trafficking.  I would therefore like to conclude that above all more assessment is needed to evaluate the impact that demand side measures have on the scope of human trafficking. 

These conclusions were presented by Suzanne Hoff, La Strada International a DemandAT Consortium partner


The views expressed in the blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the DemandAT Consortium as a whole