The European Court of Auditors released an audit on June 20, 2017, which found that while the European Union funded 31 million euros worth of projects to combat human trafficking in South/South-East Asia, most of the funding was not used to its full potential.

It was found that the European Commission failed to correct project design weaknesses in a timely manner, specifically before signing grant contracts.

In the case of a 106-thousand-euro project in Indonesia, it was discovered by a proposal evaluator that the project contained “weak indicators.”  However, this was not reflected in the evaluation report and the project indicators were not improved.

The audit also found that several project objectives were not “specific or measurable enough.” It was also found that project indicators were lacking in “robustness, credibility, and ease of use.” Indicators were also occasionally defined in a non-meaningful way. These objectives and indicators are what measure a project’s goals and success, therefore making many projects ill-guided and unable to truly be evaluated.

For example, one project in the Philippians which received 175 thousand euros, had an overall objective “to contribute to a human-rights centered governance environment…fulfilling obligations of local government units… to increase the rights-claiming capacities of women”, which is an objective that is neither sufficiently measurable or specific.

The audit also uncovered that no comprehensive data has been kept on EU financial support towards fighting human trafficking from 2009-2015. The European Commission does maintain a database of human trafficking projects, but it was found that the database was not a complete source of information on funding and therefore cannot be used to support relevant decision-makers and practitioners in setting priorities and steering actions as there are no clear criteria defining what constitutes a “human trafficking-relevant action.”

Most of the funding that goes toward human trafficking in South/South-East Asia is given in the form of grants. In 2004 the European Commission instructed European Union delegations to increase the minimum grant size to reduce the number of contracts produced. The European Commission expected this decision to allow larger and more professional non-governmental organizations to primarily obtain grants and this would, in turn, ensure better management and better design. However, this decision did not consider that different countries do not have the same amount of non-governmental organizations who focus on fighting human trafficking. This puts countries with fewer non-governmental organizations at a disadvantage as it might be more difficult to form larger groups with the necessary experience.

The European Court of Auditors has provided the European Commission with several recommendations to combat the issues that have been found. Some of which include: update priorities with regards to previous results and the pervasiveness of trafficking in specific areas, ensuring data on supported human trafficking projects, developing and prioritizing clear objectives and targets, and assessing the type and size of grants in a more objective manner.

With the multi-billion-dollar industry of human trafficking continuing still going strong, it is imperative that the European Union reprioritize its efforts to truly help the estimated 46 million people trapped in this system that includes lives of forced labor, sexual exploitation, child labor, organ removal, and forced marriage.