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Human trafficking is not just about organised crime - research presented to UN suggests

28th October 2022

Northumbria University academics, Professor Georgios A. Antonopoulos and Dr. Georgios Papanicolaou, were recently invited to present their research on human trafficking at the Eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (COP UNTOC) held in Vienna between 17th and 21st October 2022. 

UNTOC, also called the 'Palermo Convention', is a 2000 United Nations-sponsored multilateral treaty against transnational organised crime. The Convention was adopted by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 15 November 2000 as the main legal international instrument to fight organised crime, and to inform national legal frameworks against organised crime. 

UNTOC's three supplementary protocols include the ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children’, which contain elements of the current international law on human trafficking. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention was established to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organised crime and to promote and review the implementation of this Convention.

Antonopoulos and Papanicolaou’s research has explored how human trafficking has become embedded into the legal economy in Greece – making it almost impossible to police without labour market reform. The embeddedness of undocumented migrant labour in several economic sectors, including agriculture, small manufacture and small service business in Greece has rendered the conceptual umbrella of 'organised crime' counterproductive, when it comes to the prevention of human trafficking and the prosecution of traffickers. 

In their presentation, they argued that the 'organised crime' framework diverts police attention towards criminal organisation as a more robust criminal structure. Migrant labour exploited in conditions that can be construed as trafficking is a much more localised reality. 

Dr. Papanicolaou explained: “Preventing trafficking may be less a matter of criminal law enforcement and special police organisation and tactics, and more a matter of reforming the labour market. This could help create an environment that is friendly to migrant labour and more densely regulated by a range of pertinent authorities, such as labour inspectors, the revenue service and social services.”

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