For the majority of population the problem of labor slavery is a scenario of some thrilling detective story. Unfortunately, statistics proves it not a movie, but tough reality. There are people who still live by the principle "no mill, but full of meal", despite the fact that serfdom was cancelled almost 200 years ago.

The representative office of the International organization for migration (IOM) in Ukraine notes that Ukrainians underestimate the risks to fall for a scam and become victims of labor slavery both within the country and abroad. According to the latest researches by IOM in Ukraine, 70% of Ukraine's population excludes the possibility to appear in such situation. Meanwhile, abuse of free labor forces is now on top of the list regarding violations of human rights. And if earlier the target was women, now 'black' business focuses on men. "Our statistics proves that since 2010 there have been more victims suffering from forced labor than from sex trafficking," Varvara Zhluktenko, press secretary of the IOM representative office in Ukraine, comments on the situation.

Interior Ministry of Ukraine confirms that human trafficking remains one of the most dangerous kinds of international crime business. Moreover, it evolves - criminals invent new schemes to bypass law enforcement measures. Public affairs officer of Interior Ministry Volodymyr Polishchuk points out that human trafficking crime industry is now focused not on sex exploitation, but on worker exploitation and removal of organs.

"Slave" math

According to the data ForUm has got from the IOM representative office in Ukraine, from 2007 through 2012 the number of victims of labor slavery among Ukrainians has made 2835 people. Taking only this year, the figures show 424 victims. And these are only citizens who got assistance within the program of the International organization for migration. Taking into account the fact that not all victims apply for help, the figures can be much higher.

The biggest 'demand' for Ukrainian labor force is in neighboring Russia. There have been 271 victims for this year already. For the past five years IOM in Ukraine assisted to 1643 citizens of Ukraine, who had to work in Russia for 'thank you' in the best-case scenario. The next one is Poland: 481 Ukrainians have been recruited by criminals for 2007-2012 period. The third in the raw, surprisingly enough, is Ukraine itself.  According to IOM representative office, 80 people have been sold into labor slavery this year, and 170 Ukrainians - since 2007. "Even foreign citizens can fall in labor slavery on our territory. We have cases when citizens of Moldova and Azerbaijan were exploited at private agricultural enterprises, Uzbeks and Pakistani were labor slaves at private mining and processing enterprises, Chinese - at private construction firms, women from Kyrgyzstan - at private clothes factory in Ukraine," Varvara Zhluktenko says.

At the same time, for the last two years there have been no cases of labor slavery of Ukrainians registered on the territory of Czech Republic, Austria and Turkey, which used to hold leading positions in the list of destination countries for labor slaves from Ukraine. However, there are newcomers in the list of destination countries for labor slavery. Thus, 72 Ukrainians have recently suffered from worker exploitation in Iraq. 

The Interior Ministry confirms the trend. Moreover, the department reports the pattern when countries of origin and transit become the destination countries and when people from rural areas are brought to metropolises. "Ukraine is the country of origin, transit and destination for men, women and children, taken abroad for sex and labor trafficking," Volodymyr Polishchuk says.

The market of slave labor is not rich in options, but the work is no easy thing. People are mostly sent to work in construction, agriculture and production. This year the law enforcements have solved a number of high profile crime cases. Thus, for example, a criminal organization in Volyn region exploited eight Ukrainians from Zakarpattya, forcing them to sort household waste at one of regional landfills. Similar crime was uncovered on the territory of Luhansk regions, where people were menaced into agricultural works.

No doubt, men fit better for this kind of work, and criminals understand this as well. Thus, 297 out of 424 victims of labor slavery for this year are male representatives.

Having studied the statistics ForUm decided to find out the reasons of such sad figures and to learn how to ensure from dishonest employers. 

All that glitters is not gold

If you decided to earn some money abroad, first find out what rights you will have. One of the common 'kernels' of the problem of labor slavery is legal ignorance of citizens. Specialists declare with one voice that the major premises to become a labor slave are low awareness, ignorance of the legislation, blind confidence and propensity to underestimate risks.

As a rule, recruiters entertain with attractive terms of employment abroad, including legal status, high salary, assistance with visa, travel, living and sometimes food at the cost of employer. In this case, potential migrants should remember that there is no such thing as free lunch. In the majority of cases, after signing the contract people are taken to a country where they learn the true conditions of work. "It is not infrequent that on the way to a new place, right in a bus, recruiters collect passports and mobile phones from migrants to limit their liberty of movement and contacts with relatives," Zhluktenko says.

Apart from trafficking, criminal organizations have schemes to 'milk' ignorant Ukrainians. IOM representative office in Ukraine reports there are cases when employment agencies promise employment, but in fact the contract says they provide only information and consulting services, for which people pay from 500 to 2000 thousand dollars. The agencies also promise potential migrants to process working visa for them. Do not trust such promises, as it is legally impossible to process a visa for someone, as well as to replace a tourist visa with a working one, once abroad.

Perspectives of fast employment are also doubtful. IOM office in Ukraine explains that legal employment with proper documentation can take from three months to one year. Illegal employment does not require all this time, but in this case, migrant workers become fully dependent on their employer, who forces them to work under terrible conditions at some hazardous enterprise and to live in huts.

Better safe than sorry

"Instead of pinning faith on scammers, estimate real prospective of working aboard, collect all possible information about potential employer. For this you can appeal to the Ministry for social policy of Ukraine and the embassy of the country of interest in Ukraine or to look up information in Internet. Study thoroughly the contract and in case of doubts call the national hotline on combating human trafficking," press secretary of IOM representative office in Ukraine recommends.

Lawyers also recommend studying thoroughly the documentation before signing, especially legal documents about employment agency itself. "If you don't want to be tricked, ask legal documents from your agency, learn about its status and registered activities," a lawyer Tetyana Yablonska says.
Besides, it's not difficult to find information about agency of interest. IOM representative office assures that to learn about the license and registered activities of an employment agency one can call the Ministry for social policy. Moreover, it is possible to specify what countries the license covers.
According to the data of the Ministry for social policy, in Ukraine there are 665 licensed agencies, engaged into employment abroad. More than 80 thousand Ukrainians find jobs through these agencies annually.

Even if the company works legally, lawyers warn to study the contract. Expert recommends paying attention to the smallest details, including empty lines in the document, which can be filled by the agency after the signing. It is also important to have a contract written in understandable language.
All these precautions concern not only people wishing to go working abroad. Due to the increase of abuse cases, people should be cautious and attentive even when applying for work on the territory of Ukraine.

"Before signing the employment agreement, it would be better to ask a lawyer to check the document for pitfalls," Tetyana Yablonska underlines. Specialists also remind that the employment agreement must be signed between employer and employee, not between employee and employment agency, and both sides must have the copies of the document. "Offers to go working abroad without a contract means illegal employment and, consequently, increase chances to be sold in slavery," Varvara Zhluktenko says.

Sink or swim

Even if you are illegal migrant, it does not mean you cannot ask the consulate or the embassy of Ukraine in another state for help. The most important is to break free and be able to get there. Victims of labor slavery can also seek help in governmental and non-governmental organizations, which help migrants, in local law enforcement agencies, Ukrainian Diaspora organizations, public and religious organizations. Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, International organization for migration and Anti-Slavery International are ready to reach out.

In its turn, the Ministry for social policy notes that complex assistance, including psychological, social, medical, legal and informational help, can be obtained in centers of social-psychological assistance, functioning in 20 regions of Ukraine. Victims can even stay there for a while.

Moreover, from January 1, 2013, the resolution of the Cabinet "on payment of one-time financial assistance to victims of human trafficking" comes into force. According to the decree, victims of human trafficking, including labor slaves, will get financial assistance in the amount of minimum living wage (depends on category - children under 6 years old, minors, disabled, etc.), established for the moment of application .

Interior Ministry assures that when receiving information about labor slavery cases, happened with Ukrainians abroad, law enforcement agencies, including the anti-human trafficking and migrant smuggling department and Interpol bureau in Ukraine, start immediate investigation.


National migrant consulting hotline: 0-800-505-501 (free of charge calls from landlines). Consultations are free of charge and confidential.

Tetyana Matsur


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