Germany (Tier 1)

The Government of Germany fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government made key achievements to do so during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Germany was upgraded to Tier 1. These achievements included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, as well as increasing law enforcement efforts on labor trafficking compared with the prior year. With the opening of an additional counseling center in 2021, trafficking-specific NGO service providers operated in all 16 states. In 2021, one state established a new trafficking-specific prosecutor’s office, and another state opened two new safe houses for male victims, although accommodations overall remained inadequate. The government increased funding for victim services and established an inter-ministerial framework on labor trafficking with NGO-run victim care providers. The government also established a voluntary certificate program for private health care recruitment agencies that required labor law compliance. Although the government meets the minimum standards, judges continued to issue lenient sentences, resulting in 66 percent of convicted traffickers receiving fully suspended sentences, fines, or less than one year’s imprisonment, which undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, weakened deterrence, created potential security and safety concerns for victims, and was not equal to the seriousness of the crime. The government remained without a national victim identification and referral guideline for all forms of trafficking, which may have hindered victim identification, particularly of refugees and asylum-seekers. The government did not report awarding compensation to any victims during the reporting period, and restitution for victims remained rare. Shelter and NGO funding for victim care and assistance remained insufficient, and the government did not report whether it provided sufficient training to judges who adjudicated trafficking cases.

  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected labor and sex traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve serving significant prison terms.
  • Ensure equitable treatment of victims by creating a national identification and referral guideline for all forms of trafficking across all states.
  • Increase awareness and availability of robust human trafficking training courses for judges that adjudicate trafficking cases in order to sensitize judges to the severity of trafficking crimes.
  • Ensure systematic and continuous anti-trafficking training for immigration officers to increase proactive victim identification among foreign migrants and asylum-seekers.
  • Ensure systematic provision of care for child victims and extend more specialized care, services, and sufficient accommodations for male victims.
  • Increase awareness of and trafficking survivor access to damages and compensation and increase prosecutor’s efforts to systematically request restitution for survivors during criminal trials.
  • Adopt a national anti-trafficking action plan (NAP) for all forms of trafficking.
  • Increase the capacity of investigators, prosecutors, and courts with specific expertise on trafficking cases to minimize delays in bringing cases to trial and consider additional dedicated human trafficking units.
  • Increase prioritization of labor trafficking, including victim identification and investigation and prosecution of labor traffickers.
  • Increase worker protections by eliminating recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by German labor recruiters and ensuring employers pay any recruitment fees.
  • Implement effective regulations and oversight of recruitment companies and industries comprised predominantly of migrant workers, which are consistently enforced, including prosecution for fraudulent labor recruitment and labor trafficking.
  • Appoint a national rapporteur to provide independent review of government efforts on both labor and sex trafficking.
  • Establish a uniform and comprehensive data collection system, including publicly available disaggregated data on sentencing where courts convict defendants of both trafficking and one or more other serious crimes.
  • Appoint a national coordinating body, responsible for both sex and labor trafficking, to increase harmonization of the institutional framework and coordination structures at the federal and state levels.
  • Increase survivor engagement, including by establishing accessible mechanisms for receiving and providing compensation for survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings.
  • Increase efforts to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases.

The government increased law enforcement efforts, although judges’ sentencing of convicted traffickers remained lenient. The criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking under Sections 232, 232(a), 232(b), 233, and 233(a) and prescribed punishments of six months to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law did not require proof of force or coercion to prosecute suspected sex traffickers when victims were younger than 21. State law enforcement completed 325 pre-trial trafficking investigations of 421 suspects in 2020, the most recent year for which the government had comprehensive statistics; this was similar to 313 investigations into 472 suspects in 2019 but less than 386 investigations into 602 suspects in 2018. Of the 2020 investigations, there were 291 for sex trafficking and 34 for labor trafficking, including four for forced begging and eight for forced criminality. In 2021, German law enforcement and international partners (including Europol and Slovakia) conducted at least six targeted operations against Vietnamese criminal organizations involved in human trafficking and smuggling, resulting in the arrest of at least six suspects and the identification of at least 13 victims.

For each case in which a court convicted a defendant of multiple crimes, the government recorded it only under the charge with the highest statutory sentence; therefore, reported statistics did not include cases in which the court convicted a defendant of trafficking and where that defendant received an aggregate sentence for another crime that carried a higher statutory sentence. Current data collection classification and procedures, in addition to strict privacy laws, continued to result in incomplete data and underreporting. This likely lowered both the reported number of trafficking convictions and the average length of sentences. To obtain a more complete understanding of its efforts, the government provided prosecution and conviction statistics for trafficking cases when it was both the primary charge as well as cases when it was the secondary charge. Total prosecutions for 2020 were at least 262, an increase compared with at least 215 total prosecutions for 2019. In 2020, state prosecutors prosecuted 128 defendants with trafficking as the primary charge and at least 139 suspects with trafficking as the secondary charge. The total number of convictions for 2020 was 224, an increase compared with 195 in 2019. Courts convicted 85 traffickers with trafficking as the primary charge and 139 traffickers with trafficking as the secondary charge in 2020.

The government only provided sentencing statistics for convictions with trafficking as the primary charge. Of the 85 traffickers convicted in 2020 with trafficking as the primary charge, 66 percent (56 traffickers) received either a fully suspended sentence (33 traffickers), a fine (15 traffickers), or less than one year of imprisonment (eight traffickers), compared with 72 percent of traffickers convicted with trafficking as the primary charge receiving such lenient sentences in 2019. Only 34 percent of convicted traffickers (29) received significant prison sentences of more than one year imprisonment (compared with 28 percent in 2019). Judges typically suspended sentences under two years for most crimes, including human trafficking, particularly for first-time offenders. However, this practice weakened deterrence, potentially undercut efforts of police and prosecutors, and created potential security and safety concerns, particularly for victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions.

Prioritization of labor trafficking remained a concern during the reporting period, and law enforcement efforts remained low compared with the suspected scale. However, according to the data available for 2020, under Section 232 (b) for forced labor, there were 34 investigations, 14 prosecutions, and five convictions for forced labor, an increase compared with 26 investigations and zero prosecutions or convictions for forced labor in 2019. However, sentences for labor trafficking remained lenient, and convicted traffickers only received fines or suspended sentences in 2020. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) funded a study of criminal code Sections 232 to 233a, as amended in 2016, which was published in September 2021. The study concluded that to effectively address forced begging and criminality, law enforcement would need additional specialized training and an agency would need to be assigned specific responsibility; it also found that, in general, there was an insufficient amount of trafficking-specialized professionals. Notable cases during the reporting period included the 2021 convictions, with significant sentences, of five Islamic State members accused of enslaving Yezidi women and children; the trials and convictions conducted in Germany are considered the first in the world for international crimes committed against the Yezidi population. An additional trial of another suspect began in January 2022, and an arrest of another Islamic State member charged with trafficking among other crimes occurred in March 2022. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking crimes.

The complex wording and scope of the trafficking and exploitation sections in the criminal code (Sections 232 to 233a) reportedly resulted in state prosecutors sometimes charging suspected traffickers with offenses considered easier to prove than coercion in labor and sex trafficking. Furthermore, the MOJ-funded study concluded the amended Sections 232 to 233(a) had not achieved the desired impact on the criminal prosecution of human trafficking. Specifically, the study found the following results: there was no significant increase in prosecutions or convictions compared with previous trafficking statutes, the provisions were confusing and relied almost exclusively on victim testimony, and the government had not introduced sufficient structural changes to effectively enforce the expanded provisions, resulting in prosecutors charging and convicting traffickers for other crimes. As a federal system, jurisdictions for criminal prosecutions in Germany rested with state courts and, consequently, procedures, staffing, and funding varied from state to state. The government reported some investigations and court hearings were delayed in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, staff shortages, and capacity issues. Law enforcement also reported some cases were hindered because victims were unwilling to testify in person during the pandemic.

Frequent turnover, insufficient personnel, and limited dedicated trafficking resources hindered law enforcement efforts, sometimes leading to protracted court cases that were ultimately dismissed due to the statute of limitations or the unwillingness of victims to participate in prolonged proceedings. NGOs asserted that in some cases, it took police five to eight years to address cases reported to them; furthermore, slow law enforcement proceedings often had a negative impact on witness testimony. The federal criminal police (BKA) had dedicated human trafficking investigators. Most, but not all, states had dedicated anti-trafficking investigation units, and a couple of states had specialized prosecutors; in August 2021, an additional state, Munich, established a specialized prosecutor’s office for human trafficking. Prosecutors with experience assisting victims through trial processes frequently led sex trafficking cases; however, labor trafficking cases were more often assigned to financial, economic, or organized crime sections that lacked similar experience. Through a public-private partnership, a working group focused on financial flows related to human trafficking and developed a handbook on trafficking, but it did not report any investigations or concrete results stemming from this partnership.

The government and state-funded NGOs continued to organize and provide training to law enforcement officials, although civil society recommended increased labor trafficking training, specifically with regard to identifying migrant workers as trafficking victims. The NGO-run Service Center against Labor Exploitation, Forced Labor and Trafficking in Human Beings (Servicestelle) reported providing 16 trainings to 300 participants and the BKA, and various government-funded NGOs reported delivering extensive trainings, both online and in-person, to a variety of officials, including for asylum-center workers, law enforcement officers, immigration officers, Federal Custom’s Financial Control of Illegal Work Directorate (FKS) officials, shelter staff, and prosecutors. The German Judicial Academy, a national advanced training facility for judges and public prosecutors, reported offering an advanced human trafficking course in 2021 but did not report how many judges or prosecutors attended. The BKA maintained an information portal for federal and state police forces with information on current trends, guidelines, and investigative tools for combating trafficking. The Servicestelle also maintained an online platform that provided access to information on guidelines, agreements, and counseling centers for victims. Federal and state-level police continued to collaborate with EUROPOL on joint action days and in EU-funded programs, as well as bilaterally with Hungary, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey on international trafficking investigations, which resulted in the arrest of 400 suspects and identification of 187 potential trafficking victims both in Germany and in participating countries across Europe. The government also reported hosting a workshop on assisting victims, investigating, and prosecuting labor trafficking in the Baltic Sea Region, which was attended by 40 professionals from eight countries.

The government increased protection efforts. In 2020, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available, state government authorities, who are responsible for protection efforts, identified 494 trafficking victims, the same as in 2019 and similar to 503 identified victims in 2018. Government-funded NGOs identified 820 trafficking victims from January 2020 to June 2021 (compared with 987 in 2019); however, these victims may also have been counted in the government statistics, making the total number of identified victims uncertain, and the timeframe did not allow for a comparison to prior year efforts. Of the government-identified victims, 406 were victims of sex trafficking (427 in 2019), and 88 were victims of labor trafficking (67 in 2019), which included four forced begging victims (one in 2019) and 11 forced criminality victims (23 in 2019). Almost all sex trafficking victims were female (94 percent), and of those whose age was known, 42 percent were younger than 21. The majority of identified sex trafficking victims were from Germany (131), Romania (68), and Bulgaria (56). In 2020, the majority of labor trafficking victims were from Romania and Zimbabwe, eight were younger than 21, and most labor trafficking victims were identified in the construction sector. Police continued to proactively identify the majority of trafficking victims. In its 2019 report, GRETA noted that the official figures of identified trafficking victims did not reflect the true scale of human trafficking in Germany due to the absence of a comprehensive and coherent approach to detecting and identifying victims, including among migrants and asylum-seekers, problems with data collection, and insufficient prioritization of labor trafficking. Some NGOs reported the number of sex trafficking victims increased following the implementation of the 2016 commercial sex law, while other NGOs continued to express concern that trafficking victims would either not register or register without disclosing trafficking crimes; despite this, sex trafficking victim identification did not correspondingly increase.

The government did not have a single national victim identification or referral guideline to address all forms of trafficking, and both children and adults remained without systematic provision of care. At the federal level, there were procedures in place to identify and refer victims to care, but most victim care was handled at the state level. NGOs noted a national mechanism did not appear to be as high a priority for the government compared with other issues. However, there was a national identification and cooperation strategy for children and plans to establish national referral procedures for labor trafficking, though the government did not report any outcomes by the end of the reporting period. The government continued to fund an NGO charged with the implementation of the cooperation strategy for children, which reported establishing a total of eight networks in six states and providing training to government officials and practitioners to establish anti-trafficking and exploitation roundtables. Each state had a separate system to refer victims to either state-run support or NGOs, and several states had written identification guidelines. Several government-funded NGOs continued to distribute trafficking identification and indicator brochures, one of which included specific indicators for forced begging and forced criminality. Thirteen of 16 states also had formal cooperation agreements in place between police and NGOs for various purposes, but not all included all forms of trafficking, such as labor trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality. Authorities reported pandemic-related restrictions and staff shortages in 2020 made identifying sex trafficking victims particularly difficult, as many traffickers adapted and moved to online platforms. Workplace closures and further physical isolation due to the pandemic also made the identification of labor trafficking victims more difficult. Requests for assistance and instances of labor exploitation and trafficking, especially in agriculture, significantly increased; however, NGOs reported continued difficulty accessing workers in factories and on farms due to pandemic-related restrictions.

While the government did not report comprehensive data or the total number of victims that received care, it did report that of the 406 identified sex trafficking victims, at least 130 received care, including 92 from specialized counseling centers and 38 from youth welfare offices, similar to 116 assisted in 2019. In 2021, the government-funded Network against Trafficking in Human Beings (KOK) published its first report, collated via a government-funded data tool, evaluating victims’ access to government-sponsored services and benefits based on information received from 16 of its 39 member organizations. The KOK reported that from January 2020 to June 2021, government-funded counseling centers provided victims of trafficking and exploitation a variety of services: psycho-social support (613), information on victim rights (588), crisis intervention (424), support during asylum proceedings (421), assistance with documentation (360), support during residence permit proceedings (346), assistance accessing a means of subsistence (323) and obtaining compensation or back wages (86), referral and accompaniment to medical appointments (253), support during criminal proceedings (75), and referral to training and education (104), literacy and language courses (265), and employment (49). In 2021, due to the pandemic, some shelters and counseling centers operated at limited capacity, and NGOs noted difficulty in finding open spaces for victims at shelters, especially with the increased occurrence of domestic violence during the pandemic. NGOs reported moving some victim assistance services to a virtual platform to adapt to the pandemic; however, this may have limited access for some victims without internet or who did not speak German, especially when victims were also required to submit paperwork online.

The government provided victim services primarily through the state-funded and NGO-operated Servicestelle and its affiliated counseling centers and advice centers, which specialized in assisting labor trafficking victims, foreign migrants, and refugees. The KOK comprised 42 member organizations, including specialist counseling centers, migrant projects, and women’s shelters; KOK acted as a convening and coordinating entity for anti-trafficking NGOs. This model allowed victims to obtain support without the need to interact with law enforcement, which officials found increased the likelihood victims would seek assistance. In 2021, national government funding for the KOK’s management operations was €506,000 ($573,700), similar to €500,000 ($566,890) in 2019 and 2020, and an additional €199,600 ($226,300) went to an NGO for anti-trafficking projects. The government also allocated approximately €271,000 ($307,260) to the NGO that operated the Servicestelle, the same as in 2020. State governments supported trafficking victims and, in 2021, allocated at least €5.91 million ($6.70 million), including some additional funding for pandemic-related costs, to human trafficking NGOs, compared with €3.3 million ($3.74 million) in 2020. However, civil society reported staffing and funding were insufficient for their operational needs and were further exacerbated by pandemic-related expenses, requiring a dependence on private donations; the expansion of trafficking-specific mandates without allotting additional resources created challenges for adequate victim care. Civil society noted many rural areas continued to lack trafficking-specific resources. Government-funded NGO counseling centers served both labor and sex trafficking victims, although many centers only had a mandate to work with female sex trafficking victims. With the opening of a government-funded counseling center in Thuringia, trafficking-specific NGO service providers operated in 45 cities and in all 16 states, providing shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, vocational support, and assistance acquiring residence permits. Beginning in 2021, victims were entitled to between 15 and 18 sessions of emergency aid in outpatient trauma clinics. However, a civil society organization reported many trafficking victims were not covered by the government’s health care system and those who were covered typically received treatment by health care workers who were not trained to identify trafficking victims. Furthermore, civil society noted that shelter for all trafficking victims was severely deficient and lacked national harmonization. There was limited long-term or comprehensive support, including shelter, within these centers for children, transgender females, and male trafficking victims; civil society noted, while there was more availability for female victims, accommodation for men was ad hoc and children lacked specialized shelter that catered to the needs of trafficking victims. Overall availability of services and shelters was inconsistent or inadequate depending on the state. While North Rhine-Westphalia opened two new safe houses for male victims in 2021 and several states increased funding for additional shelters, NGOs continued to note they had to deny shelter to some male victims in 2021 due to capacity constraints. A 2021 KOK study analyzed court rulings from 2017 to 2021, including trafficking cases, and concluded that access to social benefits and assistance was strongly correlated with preventing re-trafficking of victims, which the pandemic made more apparent.

The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) continued to utilize its standard operating procedures and trafficking indicator lists to identify potential victims in the asylum protection system and made referrals to counseling centers, though NGOs continued to suggest needed improvements in victim identification. Each BAMF branch office included at least one representative to assist in identifying and supporting potential trafficking victims. A November 2020 NGO policy paper concluded that BAMF officers required additional training and resources to manage their workloads. While the government reported screening foreign migrants and asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators, and identified victims were entitled to social benefits and deportation relief, unidentified victims remained vulnerable and could be deported to their first country of EU entrance without first receiving protection services. The government occasionally returned trafficking victims seeking to transfer asylum claims to Germany to their original arrival country, which sometimes included their traffickers. NGOs reported that sometimes potential labor trafficking victims were treated like criminals based on their lack of documentation or deported prior to being screened or given the opportunity to claim compensation for lost wages. Counseling centers reported specialized trafficking BAMF officers were not always involved or included in deportation hearings. Civil society noted non-specialized immigration and police officers rarely identified trafficking victims among the asylum-seeking and migrant populations, even when victims directly referenced trafficking experiences, especially if NGOs or counseling centers were not involved. NGOs reported pandemic-related hearing delays for asylum and refugee cases in 2020 caused a backlog for 2021 and delays in benefits for applicants; NGOs also reported pandemic restrictions prevented them from accompanying some victims to their hearings. Counseling centers could identify and refer trafficking victims to services; however, they continued to report that BAMF officers often disagreed with their identifications and deported the victim anyway. Similar to prior years, federal courts continued to overturn BAMF’s deportation decisions, including at least one case for deporting an individual to an unsafe country of origin and another case for failure to provide entitled services. A government-funded, but civil society-led, working group endeavored to create and implement measures to identify vulnerable migrants and refugees at the earliest point and reported field testing its measures at two reception centers and two psychological centers, but results were not available by the end of the reporting period. Prosecutors, together with other authorities, offered undocumented victims a reflection period of three months to decide if they would testify in court. However, NGOs noted the reflection period was not uniformly or adequately applied and urged investigators to increase efforts to inform victims of their rights. Victims who agreed to testify were eligible for temporary residence permits, which allowed them to remain and work in Germany through the duration of the trial; however, the government did not report how many victims received permits. The law provided legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. After the completion of their trafficker’s trial, the law granted officials the authority to issue residence permits to victims in cases of humanitarian hardship, for public interest, or for those who faced injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin; however, GRETA noted there were significant discrepancies from state to state in the application of the law. Family members of foreign trafficking victims were eligible for residency in certain circumstances.

The law entitled victims to an interpreter and a third-party representative from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews. Subject to certain requirements, victims could join criminal trials as joint plaintiffs and were entitled to free legal counsel, a psychological assistant, an interpreter, and the pursuit of civil remedies as part of the criminal proceeding. In November 2021, the government released a guide for child-friendly criminal proceedings and interactions. The law allowed victims to submit video testimony; however, NGOs reported not all states had the required equipment for video testimony. The government took measures to lessen the burden on victims and their potential re-traumatization by trying to reduce the number of times they had to testify in trials and, sometimes, not requiring them to testify at all. However, civil society noted that these victim protections were not implemented uniformly and sometimes judges did not dismiss suspects from the courtroom before victim testimony. NGOs also reported instances of law enforcement and judges lacking a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach, where victims were interrogated like criminals or judged for becoming trafficking victims. Furthermore, the 2021 MOJ-funded study concluded that the 2016 changes to the criminal code, which were partially intended to decrease the importance of victim and witness testimony, were largely unsuccessful. State prosecutors remarked that an understanding of trauma, trafficking-specific victim interviewing training, protection from deportation, and early access to a psychologist and legal assistance were necessary for successful prosecution of trafficking cases.

While the law allowed for compensation from the government, it could only be awarded to victims who had experienced direct physical violence, and the government did not report awarding compensation to any victims during the reporting period. Though the government amended the Victims of Crime Act in November 2019 to address the requirement of physical violence and expand protections to include psychological violence, the amendments will not enter into force until January 2024. The government continued to lack comprehensive statistics on restitution and damages awarded to victims and did not require prosecutors to systematically request restitution during criminal trials; despite this, it reported awarding restitution to between two and five trafficking victims during the reporting period (compared with two victims awarded restitution in the prior reporting period). NGOs and GRETA reported victims were not systematically informed of their rights. Despite the government’s law enforcement action against Vietnamese criminal organizations and focus on identifying Vietnamese trafficking victims during the reporting period, civil society reported assisting few Vietnamese victims and questioned whether victims were systematically informed of their rights. Section 154(c) of the German Code of Criminal Procedure exempted victims from prosecution for minor criminal offences that traffickers compelled them to commit; however, the 2021 MOJ-funded study concluded prosecutors rarely used section 154(c) because they preferred to use more familiar sections of the criminal code, which lacked the trafficking-specific language of 154(c). The report recommended required mandatory use of Section 154(c) when interacting with trafficking victims. NGOs reported that undocumented victims often fear obtaining medical care or submitting a claim for lost wages because Section 87 of the German Residency Act required public entities to report undocumented persons. The government offered witness protection as needed, and police would accompany witnesses to trials; in 2021, the government provided a total of eight trafficking victims witness protection, compared with 13 in 2020.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. Germany remained without a NAP for all forms of trafficking; however, the government had a draft strategy to combat labor trafficking, which it continued to implement. The government had three federal-state interagency working groups that coordinated with each other and addressed all forms of trafficking. The Federal Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women, and Youth (BMFSFJ) coordinated human trafficking efforts at the international level and national efforts on sex trafficking, while the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs coordinated efforts on labor trafficking. The government working groups met six times in 2021 to discuss a variety of anti-trafficking efforts, including anti-trafficking legislative priorities, increasing high-level prioritization of labor trafficking, and improving identification and specialized assistance for child trafficking victims. In July 2021, the government reported establishing a framework agreement between certain Federal Ministries, law enforcement agencies, and social partners. The framework agreement focused on labor trafficking prevention, establishing a referral mechanism, and improving access to services for labor trafficking victims. NGOs provided trainings under the auspices of the framework and noted improved coordination and increased identification of labor trafficking victims as a result of the closer working relationship with law enforcement. The government finalized the concept for a national rapporteur—a key recommendation of GRETA’s 2019 and 2015 reports; however, it was not yet operational. Civil society recommended increased high-level prioritization of all forms of trafficking.

The Youth Protection Act became effective in May 2021, which increased preventative protections for children against cyber grooming and potential sex trafficking. The government continued to publish its annual report on human trafficking and funded several studies, conducted by NGOs over the reporting period; studies included topics like the forced labor of Vietnamese victims, trafficking victims’ rights in criminal proceedings, the implementation of the reflection and stabilization period, non-penalization legislation, the impact of the pandemic on sex trafficking, and others. In 2021, the federal government continued awareness campaigns, some of which were launched in prior years: one campaign focused on violence against women but included information on sex trafficking, one focused on various forms of child exploitation, and another focused on trafficking in the asylum system. At least three states conducted regional campaigns: one was a sex trafficking campaign continued from the prior year and included the distribution of 1,700 posters and advertising on public transportation and at schools; one was a new campaign on women in commercial sex but included sex trafficking survivors as well; and one was a new campaign that organized awareness raising events at refugee reception centers. The federal government, through NGOs, co-funded various awareness events, lectures, webinars, online panel discussions and seminars, press releases, and conferences on trafficking in 2021. The Servicestelle created and distributed pamphlets to educate both practitioners and the public about signs of labor exploitation and forced labor in the parcel and meat industries. In early 2022, the government focused awareness-raising efforts on refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine by establishing a website and displaying posters, in Ukrainian, at public transportation locations on trafficking vulnerabilities. NGOs and the media reported several instances where potential sex traffickers may have targeted Ukrainian refugees upon their arrival in Germany—due to awareness raising efforts in this area, at least three suspicious incidents were reported to the police. The federal government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline but continued to fund a 24/7 hotline in 19 languages for women affected by violence; in 2020, the hotline received calls from 93 potential trafficking victims (compared with 96 in 2019), but no further information was available. Additionally, the government had several other national and regional hotlines for sexual violence and male victims of violence, including trafficking, in addition to a government-funded, NGO-operated national helpline for migrant workers; however, statistics on trafficking victims were unavailable for these hotlines. In March 2022, the government announced it would no longer commit to training the Libyan Coast Guard, due to concerns about their treatment of migrants. NGOs have criticized Europe’s coordinated effort with Libya, as it often resulted in the occupants of vessels rescued in the Libyan search and rescue area being returned to Libyan shores; NGOs cited severe security and human rights conditions inside Libya and Libyan detention centers and a heightened risk of trafficking for the more than 12,000 undocumented migrants forced to remain in the detention centers.

The law prohibited recruitment fees for temporary workers, but non-temporary foreign migrants could be charged a fee up to €2,000 ($2,270), though au pairs could only be charged a maximum of €170 ($193). There were also reports from NGOs that German agricultural companies continued to withhold identification documents from migrant workers and were not complying with regulations regarding minimum wage, working hours, and hygiene conditions—authorities reported forwarding several cases to prosecutors. NGOs noted the pandemic also increased the need for labor rights counseling. Foreign workers needed prior government permission, via a new residence permit, prior to changing employers, which may have increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Civil society continued to express concern regarding the recruitment of foreign nurses, asserting that their working conditions, especially in private homes, was exploitative and in some cases may have amounted to labor trafficking. While inadequate oversight, fraudulent labor recruitment, and the continued vulnerability of migrant and seasonal workers remained concerns, the government reported several efforts to deter fraudulent labor recruitment, exploitation, and trafficking. Workers organizations and government-funded NGOs coordinated 44 field campaigns that reached more than 2,500 seasonal workers in 2021 in a campaign to inform workers of their rights. In 2021, the FKS conducted 13 investigations relating to human trafficking or labor exploitation and reported identifying trafficking victims in each instance. In January 2021, a new law came into force prohibiting short-term contracts for migrant workers in the meat industry; while its goal was to increase migrant worker protections, civil society reported some exploitation structures remained. Additionally, in June 2021 the government signed a bilateral labor agreement with the Government of Moldova, which focused on the protection of seasonal agricultural workers and prohibited employers from charging recruitment fees to workers, as well as included detailed plans for oversight. Private labor recruiters did not require a license to operate. However, in June 2021, the government established a voluntary certificate that health care recruiting companies could obtain if they complied with all labor and employment laws. The government reported that of the approximately 150 eligible private recruitment agencies in Germany, 130 participated in the certificate process and 27 had already been licensed. Licensed companies were obliged to comply with the quality certificate, which was monitored, and fines could be issued for noncompliance. The government had two other agreements with the Governments of Georgia and Moldova that focused on fair recruitment but did not report any trafficking-prevention related outcomes.

Authorities and government-funded NGOs usually conducted annual in-person interviews of domestic workers employed by embassies in Berlin, without employers present, to inform workers of their rights but did not report doing so in 2021 due to pandemic-related restrictions. The government previously extended the mandate of FKS to include trafficking, thereby increasing staff who could potentially identify forced labor victims. However, FKS did not have the authority to perform labor inspections within private households without the home-owners’ consent, thereby limiting their identification of domestic servitude. In June 2021, the government passed the Human Rights Due Diligence in Supply Chains Act—though not effective until 2023—requiring companies to exercise due diligence to ensure their supply chains did not use forced labor; the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control was appointed as the competent authority and granted enforcement measures that included inspections, document retrieval, and fines for non-compliance. In June 2021, media reported a human rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany against five major retailers that purchased cotton from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) allegedly harvested with forced labor; prosecutors declined to pursue the matter due to insufficient factual indications under current criminal law. The government provided funding to several anti-trafficking programs abroad, including in Burkina Faso, several countries in the Horn of Africa, Mauritania, Niger, and the Western Balkans. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. During the reporting period, the government demonstrated efforts to reduce the demand for international sex tourism by German nationals through an awareness campaign; the government reported that its joint investigation with the Government of Brazil regarding a suspected German sex tourist initiated in the prior year was ongoing.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Germany. The pandemic exacerbated vulnerabilities for trafficking victims, including increased isolation of migrant and seasonal workers and sex trafficking victims. Sex traffickers increasingly use online platforms to recruit, exploit victims, and book apartment rentals to make their illicit operations difficult to track, in part because of the pandemic. Pandemic-related closures and restrictions caused additional vulnerability for individuals in commercial sex. Most identified sex trafficking victims in Germany are EU citizens, primarily German citizens, Bulgarians, and Romanians (of which a significant percentage are ethnic Roma). Victims also come from most other regions of the world, particularly the PRC, Thailand, Nigeria, and other parts of Africa. Transgender women from Thailand are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and are often misled regarding their working conditions and wages prior to their arrival. Similarly, Romani families sometimes force their children, both boys and girls, into commercial sex on the streets. Sex traffickers use fraudulent recruitment, force, and debt bondage to exploit Venezuelan women and LGBTQI+ persons fleeing the collapsing social and economic conditions at home. Authorities continue to report the prevalence of young male traffickers, known as “lover boys,” coercing girls and women into sex trafficking, often through a faux romantic relationship; in 2020, approximately 25 percent of sex trafficking victims were coerced using this method. Additionally, in 2020, the government reported approximately 40 percent of traffickers were acquainted with their victim prior to exploiting them in sex trafficking.

Traffickers continued to target migrants and refugees upon arrival. In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine are vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers, namely Nigerian “madams,” continue to fraudulently recruit and later coerce Nigerian women and girls to stay in exploitative situations using a “voodoo oath” they are forced to swear, while Nigerian “fraternities” increasingly recruit victims through force. The Nigerian and European mafias increasingly cooperate to facilitate human trafficking from Africa. Several foreign governments continue to report German citizens engage in sex tourism abroad. Labor trafficking victims are predominantly male and European, including from North Macedonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Organized Vietnamese criminal groups exploit Vietnamese victims in labor trafficking. Traffickers exploit victims of forced labor primarily at construction sites but also in hotels, seasonal industries like agriculture, entertainment, and restaurants, and in private homes, with reported increases in the number of child victims. Foreign workers are vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly in meat processing plants, and especially when companies hire employees through subcontractors, who may have used fraudulent practices to recruit workers to the jobs. Traffickers with labor recruitment companies fraudulently recruit artists and musicians from Zimbabwe and Ethiopia with offers of fake jobs but instead force them to perform on the street and collect their earnings. Traffickers subject Roma and foreign unaccompanied children to sex trafficking, forced begging, and other coerced criminal behavior.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future