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. According to figures provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 2.4 million people fall victim to human trafficking . Human trafficking is increasingly developing into a high-profit crime. 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 a commodity”. After illegal drug trafficking and arms trading, trafficking in human beings ranks third in terms of illicit profit. Women and children are particularly affected by human 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”.

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 order to coordinate and intensify anti-trafficking measures in Austria, the Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking under the direction of the Foreign Ministry was set up in November 2004 by a decision of the Austrian government. The Task Force is in charge of elaborating National Action Plans on Combating Human Trafficking and of monitoring their implementation. The Austrian Government adopted the first National Action Plan on Combating Human Trafficking in March 2007, the second National Action Plan (2009-2011) in May 2009, the third National Action Plan (2012-2014) in March 2012 and the forth National Action Plan (2015-2017) on 21 April 2015. The National Actions Plans reflect a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking and include measures for national coordination, prevention, protection of victims, prosecution and international cooperation.
The Austrian government appointed the Austrian Diplomat Director General Ambassador Dr. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger as the first National Coordinator on Combating Human Trafficking on 10 March 2009. Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger is also the chair of the Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking.

The Task Force regularly prepares reports on the implementation of Austria’s measures against trafficking in human beings. The First Austrian Report on Combating Human Trafficking was adopted on 10 March 2009, the Second Austrian Report on Combating Human Trafficking on 20 March 2012 and the Third Austrian Report on Combating Human Trafficking on 21 April 2015. In addition to these three-year reports, annual implementation reports are available (in German only).

Each year the Task Force organizes public events on the occasion of the EU-Anti-Trafficking Day (18 October). This year, a conference will take place on 21 October on the topic ‘Human Trafficking and its Victims – new Developments’. With a view to Austria’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2017, this conference is organized in cooperation with the OSCE in the Hofburg.

The Austrian Task Force developed an 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 finalised 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 International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Council of Europe and the European Union make important contributions in this respect. Austria supports these organizations in their efforts to combat human trafficking.

In 2010/2011, Austria was one of the first states to have its anti-trafficking action evaluated by the Council of Europe expert group GRETA. The overall assessment was positive. In its second country evaluation report on Austria in 2014/2015 GRETA welcomed the progress made in combating human trafficking while pointing on certains 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 this context Eastern Europe is one of the priority regions of the efforts launched under the Austrian Development Cooperation/Austrian Development Agency (ADA).

The Foreign Ministry as the chair of the Austrian Task Force Against Human Trafficking is also proactively engaged in sensitizing and raising awareness of staff posted at Austrian representations abroad in order to contribute to combating this crime already in the country of origin.

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; the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Since the Stockholm Programme expired in December 2014, the European Council adopted Strategic Guidelines on 27 June 2014, which shall contribute to an intensified cooperation between the EU Member States in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. As in the Stockholm Programme, the fight against trafficking in human beings is a high priority issue. In 2011, the EU adopted Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Austria has transposed this directive into national law. The EU is also implementing a Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016.

Child Trafficking

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

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 add 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): first report on child trafficking (2007-2009), a second report on child trafficking (2009-2011) and a 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 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 counseling and Support, thus making it easier to recognize and to combat exploitation and violence.

To this end, the Task Force in March 2006 set up a Working Group on Prostitution, 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 Prostition 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.

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 labor exploitation has been established, chaired by the Federal Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection. The Working Group submitted a first report on human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation (2012-2014) to the parliament.