Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

Trafficking in human beings represents a grave violation of human rights and human dignity. It is a global problem that can only be tackled at the global level and in an international context. After illegal drug trafficking and arms trading, trafficking in human beings ranks third in terms of illicit profit: According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), criminal networks generate revenues of 32 billion dollars per year with the “human being as commodity”. According to figures provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 2.4 million people fall victim to human trafficking. Women and children are particularly affected.

Because of its geographical location at the centre of Europe, Austria is affected by human trafficking both as a transit and destination country. According to estimates, the most frequent phenomena of human trafficking in Austria include human trafficking for sexual exploitation and for labour exploitation, slave-like situations of domestic servants and child trafficking.

In general, victims of human trafficking in Austria come from less affluent EU or third countries. At home they are often confronted with dysfunctional families and domestic violence; other factors that contribute to making them vulnerable to human trafficking are a low level of formal education, unemployment and the quest for a presumably “better life”.

Austria is a signatory to all relevant international legal instruments to combat human trafficking including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (2000); the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005); the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000); and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In 2011, the EU adopted directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, which has been transposed by Austria. Furthermore the EU is implementing a Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings (2012-2016)

In order to coordinate and intensify anti-trafficking measures in Austria, the Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking was set up in 2004 by a decision of the Austrian government. In the Task Force, all relevant ministries, government bodies, the federal provinces, the social partners and specialized Non-Governmental organizations are represented. Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger was appointed national coordinator and chair of the Task Force in 2009. The Task Force is in charge of elaborating National Action Plans on Combating Human Trafficking and of monitoring their implementation. Currently, the forth National Action Plan (2015-2017) is being implemented. The National Action Plans reflect a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking and include measures for national coordination, prevention, protection of victims, prosecution and international cooperation.

Every three years, the Task Force prepares reports on the implementation of Austria’s measures against trafficking in human beings to the government and the parliament. In April 2015, the third Austrian Report on Combating Human Trafficking was adopted by the government. In addition to these three-year reports, annual implementation reports are available (in German only), most recently for the year 2016.

Each year the Task Force organizes a public event on the occasion of the EU-Anti-Trafficking Day (18 October) to draw public attention to the issue of trafficking in human beings. This year, a conference on ‘Human Trafficking in Conflict and Crisis Situations” takes place on 20 October in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. In the framework of Austria’s current OSCE-Chairmanship, the conference will be organized in cooperation with the OSCE.

In 2016, members of the Task Force published a series of information brochures on different aspects of trafficking in human beings, some of them being directed to potential victims, some of them to public and private actors, who might get in contact with victims of trafficking (see downloads on the right hand side).

The Austrian Task Force developed a poster exhibition for schools "Human Trafficking - Slavery of the 21 century" which is also presented at public events and was the model for a web exhibition that has been finalized in July 2016.

The importance of global and international cooperation in combating human trafficking cannot be stressed enough. The United Nations, in particular the Vienna-based Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European Union, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Centre of Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)make important contributions in this respect. Austria supports these organizations in their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Austria was one of the first states to have its anti-trafficking measures evaluated twice by the Council of Europe’s expert group GRETA. In October 2015, GRETA published its second country evaluation report on Austria, welcoming the progress made in combating human trafficking while pointing on certain aspects where further efforts should be undertaken.

A large number of Austria’s activities aim at improving the situation in the countries of origin. In the context of development cooperation, the Austrian Development Cooperation/Austrian Development Agency (ADA) supports a number of projects aiming at preventing trafficking in human beings, including projects in South-East Europe as well as in Western and Southern Africa.

Child Trafficking

According to estimates by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 1.2 million children worldwide are victims of trafficking.

Austria is affected by child trafficking both as a transit and a destination country. Because of its clandestine nature it is very difficult to give exact figures on the actual scope of child trafficking. Moreover, it is sometimes impossible to differentiate clearly between unaccompanied refugee minors and/or unaccompanied alien minors, minors who entered a country illegally (with human smugglers) and victims of child trafficking.

Poverty is considered the major root cause of trafficking in children. Children are particularly at risk of being sold or exploited when the level of formal education is low, and violence or addictive behaviour in the family adds to a lack of perspectives offered by the social environment.

In order to give more detailed consideration to the complex topic of child trafficking, the Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking established a separate working group on child trafficking. This working group which is chaired by the Federal Ministry for Families and Youth already prepared three reports (only available in German), most recently the third report on child trafficking as well as an information folder on child trafficking in Austria.

In October 2016, action guidelines (in German) for affected professional groups and institutions were finalized in order to help identifying potential victims and to cope with potentially trafficked children. These brochures also contain background information and indicators for the identification of victims. An EU-wide hotline for missing children (116000) has also been established.


The Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking holds the view that it is necessary to differentiate clearly between the needs of persons who voluntarily offer sexual services for monetary reward and those who are victims of human trafficking or other forms of sexual exploitation. A clear concept for dealing with voluntary prostitution facilitates the exercise of positive influence on working conditions as well as counselling and support, thus making it easier to recognize and to combat exploitation and violence.

To this end, the Task Force set up a Working Group on Prostitution in 2006, chaired by the Federal Ministry for Health and Women’s Affairs. The mandate of this Working Group is the elaboration of recommendations for improving living and working conditions for sex workers. Around 30 experts from the nine federal provinces and from various relevant professional backgrounds are represented in the Working Group. The approach of the WG on Prostitution is illustrated in a detailed position paper. Recommendations of the Working Group in March 2015 were summarized in an elaborate report, including the prevailing legal norms, the description of the problem and the discourse within the Working Group. In 2016, the Working Group on Prostitution published a comprehensive information brochure for sex workers. including contact details of counselling facilities and other relevant bodies in German, English, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech and Chinese language.

Trafficking of the Purpose of Labor Exploitation

According to the third National Action Plan 2012-2014 a working group of the Task Force focusing on labour exploitation has been established, chaired by the Federal Ministry for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection. The Working Group submitted a first report to the parliament on human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation (2012-2014).