Compensation is a significant instrument which serves restorative, punitive and preventive purposes. People who are trafficked are subjected to a range of physical, mental, economic and often sexual abuse. The exploitation they have undergone may lead to physical suffering and health problems, emotional trauma and loss of livelihood. Enabling and facilitating access to compensation helps victims to recover, as well as punishing and deterring traffickers.

The right of victims of trafficking to seek and obtain compensation is established in various international and European instruments, including the UN Trafficking Protocol, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (hereinafter European Anti-Trafficking Convention), the EU Directive on Trafficking in Human Beings (hereinafter EU Trafficking Directive), the EU Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime1 (hereinafter EU Victims’ Rights Directive), and more recently the Protocol to the ILO Forced Labour Convention (See Annex I for an overview of the relevant international legal standards).

Although trafficked persons have an established right to compensation and various compensation mechanisms are in existence, the actual receipt of a compensation payment by a trafficked person is extremely rare.

Obstacles include lack of awareness among police and the judicial system, lack of access to legal aid and adequate information for victims, the postponement of trials and long duration of criminal and civil proceedings, and, in the case of foreign victims, their return or deportation to their country of origin before a verdict is reached. Other reasons for denying compensation to trafficked persons may be their irregular immigration status or their involvement in the sex industry.

But even when compensation is granted, trafficked persons rarely have the means to ensure a compensation order is actually enforced, so that they receive some payment. Another barrier to trafficked persons obtaining compensation is that the traffickers are not found, or are not prosecuted, or have moved their assets abroad and/or have declared themselves bankrupt to avoid confiscation of their assets and having to pay compensation. Finally, lack of residence status, lack of information, lack of means and lack of access to legal aid prevent many trafficked persons from claiming their rights, including the right to compensation

What needs to change?
Legal aid and legal representation are essential to enable trafficked and exploited persons to seek and obtain compensation successfully via court procedures. The same for the receipt of adequate information. Trafficked persons should be informed about their rights to compensation in a timely and appropriate manner. Also a greater focus on the confiscation of the criminal assets of traffickers is required to ensure that more money becomes available for compensation awards to victims.

See further Justice at Last’s Policy Paper with all recommendations.