The article of law criminalizing labor exploitation (273f) is not correctly applied in the Netherlands. As a result, labor exploiters hardly ever go to court, while the number of reported victims is increasing. This is stated in the report Labor exploitation under the microscope , commissioned by the trade union FNV and CoMensha, the national coordination center against human trafficking. The investigation will be presented to State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Justice and Security, VVD) this Thursday afternoon. For the study, Conny Rijken, professor of Human Trafficking and Globalization at Tilburg University and, since last month, National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence against Children, together with researcher Eefje de Volder, analyzed 105 verdicts in labor exploitation cases that came to court between 2014 and 2021. They also studied 110 letters from the Public Prosecution Service (dismissals and early terminations) about cases that did not make it to court. Appointments are not complied with Important conclusion: international legal agreements are not fully complied with in the Netherlands. Judges do not always reach a conviction for labor exploitation if an exploited employee voluntarily agrees to the working conditions. But, the researchers argue, that consent is irrelevant if the exploiter abuses the employee’s vulnerable position. By including consent, not all judges comply with the UN Palermo Protocol, the EU Human Trafficking Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. It states that consent to the exploitation is irrelevant if someone is coerced. For example, judges cast an extra threshold for convictions. Ina Hut, director of CoMensha: “If someone is forced to work in the kitchen of a restaurant, his passport has been confiscated and he is not paid enough, but he is allowed to go out for groceries, then there is still coercion. ” Labor exploitation is a form of human trafficking and falls under Article 273f of the Criminal Code and is on the same list as sexual and criminal exploitation and forced organ removal and trafficking. These crimes carry a penalty of 12 years in prison and 30 years if it results in death. In 2019, only seven cases of labor exploitation were brought to court. This is striking, because the number of reported victims of labor exploitation actually increased in the last five years, according to CoMensha: from 230 to 326. “In neighboring countries, labor exploitation is more likely to end up in criminal law,” says Eefje de Volder. In Belgium, labor law violations are included in criminal law, she says, while in the Netherlands they are settled in administrative law and are therefore less likely to go to criminal court. NRC previously wrote about an investigation by the Labor Inspectorate, which states that employers who exploit personnel in the workplace have little to fear from Dutch law. According to the Inspectorate, Section 273F is unsuitable. In order to convict an exploiter, the crime must meet specific elements, such as coercion, poor working conditions and financial advantage for the boss. But labor exploitation rarely meets all elements, according to the Labor Inspectorate. And because in practice it proves very difficult to convince the judge of coercion and the intention of exploitation, the focus is often on minor offences. That is a shame, according to the Inspectorate, as a result offenders receive lower sentences. The Labor Inspectorate argued for a kind of ‘light human trafficking’. The researchers also conclude that an amendment to the current law is necessary. But in addition, the current law is not correctly applied, and that stands in the way of successful prosecution of people suspected of labor exploitation. In addition, the researchers state that judges judge very differently on comparable cases: the sentences imposed differ enormously. Also, a professional ban is almost never imposed on convicted labor exploiters, while this is legally possible. As a result, convicted persons can, for example, simply start an employment agency again. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 20, 2022