Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking

The IIP supports the Wiener Volkshochschule (VHS) in its efforts to foster and promote human rights and to take advantage of Vienna’s status as a Human Rights City, to which the Wiener Gemeinderat declared Vienna in December 2014 in order to reach and sensitize a great amount of people for diverse human rights issues.

On the 19th of March 2015, after a brief introduction of Ms Güler Alkan, two activists, one from the Vienna based organisation LEFÖ Ms. Evelyn Probst and Ms. Klara Skrivankova from Anti-Slavery International London, discussed – together with the former Minister for Women of Austria and former special representative of the OSCE against human trafficking Mrs. Helga Konrad - actual challenges and possibilities in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking in Vienna, but also internationally. An estimated 40 persons attended the panel discussion and the television broadcast Wien 24 has also been present.

As slavery in its original definition does not comply with most situations in Austria or other parts of Europe, the notion modern slavery[1] has been introduced in order to describe slavery-similar situations in which many people do live in Austria. Examples for slavery-similar working conditions for employees can especially be found in the sectors of agriculture, gastronomy, household work, construction business and prostitution. The affected people are mostly foreigners who often do not know about their rights, they do not know the language and they have no connection to local people. With regard to human trafficking, forced prostitution is a great issue which is also very sensitive in the way that the women suffer from severe traumas and are often not granted their rights because there has not been put enough efforts to find sufficient evidence to convict the perpetrators, as Evelyn Probst told us. This has fatal consequences for the women who are often thrown back into a life full of violence and deprivation, additionally they fear for the lives and the safety of their relatives or children who are used as means of coercion.

As the affected groups work in the informal sector, it is very difficult to gain reliable numbers, but as Mrs. Konrad emphasized, it is based on highly criminal internationally organised networks with very high financial output. Mrs. Skrivankova adds that due to the international component - the women are recruited and transferred firstly in the country of origin, which means that many people are participating in this process – it is very difficult to put the responsible persons to trial. However, if there is a verdict of not-guilty of the alleged perpetrator in one country, other countries could still pursuit him or his accomplices, which happens sometimes, but rather rarely.

For organisations like LEFÖ and Anti-Slavery-International the increase of affected people who find their way to their offices implicates a good sign because it signals that they are able to reach more and more victims. However, LEFÖ never has been approached by a worker from the agricultural sector although it is widely recognized that slavery similar exploitation is quite common in this area.

All panellists emphasize that people can support their activities while being aware of situations which seem to be wrong. If products or services are extremely cheap, the assumption can be made that somebody has been exploited. People can e.g. try to inform them about organisations like LEFÖ where they can find support. On a communal level it would be important for representatives to show affection for these issues and to put this topic also on a political level, if possible.

Modern forms of slavery and human trafficking are not limited to prostitution but include a wide range of sectors. It is therefore important to look closer and if possible to take action in whatever way seems safe and appropriate.


When:                                 19th of March 2015

Where:                                VHS Penzing, Huetteldorferstraße 112, 1140 Vienna

[1] However in Africa, especially Western Africa, there still exist forms of slavery in its original form. People are owned by others, they have to work for them without getting paid and even their children are born into slavery, although it is not legal there either. Slavery in Austria did exist for a long time for example between landowners and their inherited “Leibeigenen” at least until the middle of the 19th century legally.