SPANISH police have been involved in an international operation against gang masters trafficking humans for labour exploitation.
The Europol supported operation was the first Europe-wide Joint Action Day against human trafficking for labour exploitation focusing specifically on the agricultural sector.
As well as Spain, law agencies from France – which led the operation – Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal and the Netherlands were involved.
More than 400 officers from seven Member States took part in the five-day operation. As a result, 478 agricultural sites, 7,372 individuals and 179 vehicles were checked.
The joint efforts led to the identification of 44 suspects of human trafficking for labour exploitation, seven of whom were arrested during the operation. A total of 302 potential victims – mostly EU citizens – were identified and 39 possible new cases of labour exploitation initiated.
Europol says that the agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to labour exploitation. Most of the vulnerabilities related to the seasonal aspect of the contracts offered, the low wages and therefore the use of relatively low-skilled workforce coming usually from modest backgrounds in poorer regions.
During the operation, some already identified vulnerable sub-sectors were checked. In France, for example, most controls were performed in the vineyards. Checks were done in coordination between law enforcement,
In most of the cases, workers are recruited for the harvest period from their own countries. The companies which were recruiting the seasonal workers were promising them good wages, transport and accommodation. Usually, the reality turned out to be very different; with low to no wages at all, inhumane living conditions, and extremely long working hours.
Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to provide leads to investigators. Europol also supported the targeting and prioritization of vulnerable agricultural sectors through intelligence analysis.