Forced Labour and Labour Exploitation

The German Criminal Code states as Forced Labour (§232b):

Who prompts any other person by utilising this person’s personal or economic predicament or helplessness arising from being in a foreign country, or prompts any person under twenty-one years of age to engage in any of the subsequent points shall be liable to imprisonment from six months to ten years

  1. Taking up, or carrying or engaging in, any exploitative employment (Section 232 para. 1 Sentence 2),
  2. Entering into slavery, servitude, debt bondage or situations corresponding or akin to these or
  3. Taking up, or carrying on engaging in, begging through which the person is exploited

It defines as illegal the act of influencing a person’s free will to prompt him or her to engage in exploitative activities.

  • 233 German Criminal Code defines the crime of Labour Exploitation and the punishment as follows:
  • Whosoever exploits another person’s predicament or helplessness arising from being in a foreign country to subject them to slavery, servitude or bonded labour, or makes him work for him or a third person under working conditions that are in clear discrepancy to those of other workers performing the same or a similar activity, shall be liable to imprisonment from six months to ten years.”

This can be:

  • Through employment pursuant to Section 232 para. 1 no. 2,
  • Through begging or
  • Through this victim having to commit punishable offences

The §233 focusses on the exploitation of labour itself.  Victims of both these crimes are restricted in their ability to act in order not to be able to freely dispose of their own workforce. Sometimes, they are even forcefully confined, deprived of their freedom of movement. (Criminal Code § 233a) They are not paid for their work, or get no adequate payment, and have to work hard under bad or even dangerous conditions.  

While in the cases of labour exploitation, the same specific circle is followed as in the cases of sexual exploitation (recruitment, transportation, exploitation), the means of committing these acts differ. The helplessness of the targeted persons is generally given by the low level of education, enforced with financial constraints. The victims are recruited by means of false promises of better lives and well-paid jobs in Germany. The recruiters present themselves as successful businessmen*women or powerful intermediaries. They often present work contracts with fictitious companies. The clauses of the contracts are not entirely respected or not expected at all. Sometimes, the contracts are misleading and the content is not true when it refers to health insurance or working hours.

Debt bondage is no rare practice. In such cases the victims are not asked to pay for their transportation, food and/or housing in advance but only after they get their first salary. By the time they should get their salaries, their debts have grown to the extent that they cannot be paid. As months pass by, the debts keep growing and growing until the amount reach numbers with more zeros than the victims can count.

Victims of work exploitation can be men and women. While men are commonly exploited within agriculture, factories or construction sites, women tend to be exploited in agriculture, tourism (hotels and pensions), gastronomy (restaurants and fast food) as well as household (often diplomatic households).

The working conditions are degrading – long working hours, few minutes of rest, controlled free time, considerably smaller amount of salary or no salary at all. The slave-like conditions, the feeling of helplessness and the disappointment of not being able to support the family left at home constitute a traumatic experience. Breaking out of the chain of work exploitation is almost impossible for the victims. On the one hand, the low level of education and lack of language skills give rise to harsh communication barriers. On the other hand, the threats coming from the traffickers towards them personally or towards the family members have the capacity of building strong psychological cages. Furthermore, many of the victims of work exploitation are raped by the traffickers or even forced into sexual exploitation. For all of these victims, the lack of financial resources increases, rendering the idea of buying of a return ticket be wishful thinking.


Elena from Romania - Forced labour in the Gastronomy

Elena met Mister Y. in her home country Romania. She presented the young Turkish man to her parents und travelled with him to Germany, where she worked in his coffeehouse as a waitress. He had promised her 500 Euro as monthly pay. She worked daily for 12 to 15 hours.