The trafficking of labour migrants is on the rise across Europe, even surpassing sexual exploitation, according to a report published by the Council of Europe (CoE).

European officials have regularly underestimated the true scale of the problem as labor exploitation has emerged as the predominant form of human trafficking in several of the Member States as well as in non-EU countries that include Belgium, Cyprus, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia, and the United Kingdom, the council’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) said in the report.

According to the annual report, published by the CoE, the overwhelming majority of identified victims are men, although women and children are also affected.

“Our monitoring shows that more and more people are being trafficked to work in awful conditions in Europe, both within and across national borders,” said GRETA President Siobhán Mullally. “The victims are often reluctant to come forward as they may fear deportation or retaliation from criminal trafficking networks. Prosecutions and convictions of the perpetrators are also very rare.”

Male victims are often forced to work in agricultural, construction and fishery industries, whereas women tend to be forced into domestic or care work – where they are usually victims of sexual exploitation. The countries evaluated twice by GRETA have so far have indicated an upward trend in labour trafficking for labour in recent years.

“Some countries have already made important steps forward in this area, but many others need to improve their policies and practices. States across Europe need to work closely together with NGOs, trade unions and the private sector to help end this heinous exploitation and abuse,” said Mullally.