Trafficking for Labour Exploitation: Assessing Anti-Trafficking Interventions in Italy

About the Project


The TRAFFICKO project was conducted between April 2015 and January 2016 and was co-funded by the Open Society Foundations. It critically assessed current responses to trafficking for labour exploitation in Italy, and proposed alternative frameworks for developing more effective strategies with regard to prevention, and protection of victims.

The study explored how Directive 2011/36/EU on trafficking has been implemented in Italian legislation, and investigated the enforcement of other relevant legal instruments, particularly in the field of labour and employment law.

The project focused on the trafficking of men and women for labour exploitation in the agriculture sector in Sicily, and in the domestic work sector in Tuscany.

Research Findings and Outcomes

Main Findings

Tackling trafficking and severe labour exploitation in sectors such as domestic work and agriculture requires developing an integrated and comprehensive approach, which should consider how national policies, laws, cultural and social norms produce and foster migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation. In Italy, labour exploitation is a structural issue, functional to the market economy of the country, sometimes also related to criminal economies. Workers, especially migrant workers, in sectors such as domestic work and agriculture, experience diverse forms of exploitation and mistreatment, ranging from violation of the fundamental protection provided by their labour contract to severe abuse and trafficking.

In the case of domestic work, this study argues that while economic motivation is certainly one of the main factors influencing the demand for cheap and exploitable workers, other elements, such as political, legal, social, and cultural factors, also play a crucial role. 

In the case of agriculture, the project points out how supply chains rely on a system which involves different actors, notably intermediaries (Caporali), employers/farm owners, local authorities. Saving on production costs leads to lowering labour costs up to a point where people are forced to live in slavery-like conditions.

The fact that workers, especially in domestic work, are often isolated and live within the home of their employer, make these cases extremely difficult to be identified. Fear of losing a job and, in the case of an irregular migrant of being expelled, together with the fear of suffering retaliation from their employers, restrains migrant workers from reporting abuse to the police. At the same time, competent authorities have difficulties understanding the seriousness of the crimes committed in cases of labour exploitation, especially in domestic work as they are performed within a family household. There is a tendency to normalise some forms of exploitation, particularly when they involve migrants, and fail to acknowledge these as a violation of fundamental rights. This is coupled with the difficulty to prove all the elements of the crimes and by the vague formulation of certain notions in the legislation, subject to different interpretations.

Despite the progressive approach of the Italian legal framework offering assistance and protection to victims of trafficking and severe exploitation, without necessarily requiring their collaboration to criminal proceedings, there remain important lacunae in the implementation of the policy. Victims thus have limited effective access to protection and rights.


Project reports

Policy Brief

Co-funded by osf_logo

Page last updated on 26 October 2018

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