Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking in Dutch Neighborhoods

More than 110 human trafficking offenders were taken into custody by the Dutch police in the last six months, reported the NL Times. Justice Secretary Fred Teeven wrote a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives in November, saying that the fight against human trafficking is therefore “effective.”

But what exactly is human trafficking? The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines the issue as “a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

The student organization, Escaping Barcode Life, is dedicated to raise awareness in Groningen to combat this form of modern day slavery. The organization educates students about the possibilities to tackle the issue and explains how human trafficking can be spotted locally.escaping barcode life

However, “a lot of people don’t want to deal with it since it is not happening on their front door,” said Catherine Mills, who is an active member of Escaping Barcode Life. She points out that human trafficking is not only a problem on a global scale, but that it is also happening in cities like Groningen.

The student organization invited ex-police officer  Harm Bultema, who works for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment to combat human trafficking, to give a lecture in December about the issue in the Netherlands.

TIF_2Photo: Progress Report ‘New chances for survivors of human trafficking’

The Hook talked to him after the lecture about certain cases of human trafficking the Dutch government has worked on recently.


It may be difficult to imagine what human trafficking entails in Europe. Can you give a specific example of a case in the Netherlands?

There was this case of children from Slovakia and Poland; they came to Holland to work here at a strawberry farm. We found some signs that there was labor exploitation and thus we did a house search and found 33 victims. These people worked very long days, six days a week, 10-15 hours a day – and they only got about 2.50 € an hour. Sometimes they had to pay their money back to the farmer because he imposed fines upon them. They slept in a dirty and small room and had no clothes. We took the farmer into custody.

How was your attention brought to this case?

It was a control by the inspector of the labor inspectorate and he told me that he noticed some unusual things on the farm. Then I contacted my directorate of investigation and we did a house search. We also had to use a helicopter, because we knew that the people might not stay at the farm since the mayor had warned the farm owner before our search. So we found out that they slept in a tent at the neighbors place; and we could not see the tent from the road at first because of the trees. But with a helicopter we saw the tent where the people lived. The neighbor was also taken into custody because he helped with human trafficking.

In what kind of on-going seasonal work could you spot human trafficking?

It’s now December which is related to Christmas and food and you have to think about food like turkey, rabbit, or chicken. There was an investigation we did in the chicken industry. There were some people from Ghana, who were illegally in Holland and they worked for 16 hours a day for 2.50 € an hour – and that is not normal in Holland. When you buy cheap chicken in the supermarket you have to think maybe I maintain human trafficking.

How do you feel about the sentencing of the judges when it comes to human trafficking?

One of the last cases we worked on was in Doetinchem. A man and a woman came here from Romania and they were exploited by a Dutch man and a Romanian woman who already lived in Holland. They had to sell newspapers; and because they did not have enough money to pay back their debts, the woman was also selling her body. She was forced to do prostitution. And in December the judge decided that the suspects have to go to prison for two and a half years.

Is that enough punishment?

I don’t think it’s enough. And it will probably never be enough. Human trafficking should be abolished.


by Anna-Lena Sachs


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