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Forced labour and human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation exist in a wide range of industries in Spain, including in the agriculture, construction, hotel and food services, domestic work, cleaning and eldercare, manufacturing and textile sectors.

The Spanish authorities reported identifying 169 trafficking victims in 2015, out of which 104 were victims of labour trafficking. The majority of the trafficking victims identified in Spain have been foreign nationals, including men, women and children from Eastern Europe (particularly Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia), Portugal, Nicaragua, Ecuador, China, Morocco and Pakistan. Victims are often recruited through false promises of employment, and are subjected to forced labour at their arrival to Spain. Spanish victims have also been found to have been trafficked within the country.

The Spanish concept of ‘human trafficking’

Article 177bis of the Spanish Criminal Code provides the basis of the legal and policy framework against human trafficking in Spain. The Code defines human trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through violence, intimidation, deception, abuse of superiority or of a situation of need or vulnerability of a foreign or national victim, or the payment or receipt of sums or benefits to obtain the consent of a person controlling the victim, for the purposes of:

  1. the imposition of forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or begging;
  2. sexual exploitation, including pornography;
  3. exploitation for criminal purposes;
  4. the extraction of their bodily organs; and
  5. forced marriage.”

The Spanish definition is more restrictive than the international definition enshrined in the UN Human Trafficking Protocol, which encompasses trafficking for the purpose of exploitation more broadly. In contrast, the Spanish definition limits the forms of exploitation to be considered an act of ‘human trafficking’ to a specific list of exploitative practices. As a result, the original definition of human trafficking introduced in the Code in 2010 had to be amended in 2015 to include exploitation for criminal purposes and for the purpose of forced marriage. Importantly, certain forms of labour exploitation (i.e. debt bondage) would be particularly difficult to prosecute under the Spanish definition of human trafficking.

Criminal liability

The Spanish Criminal Code penalises the crime of human trafficking with five to eight years of imprisonment, or eight to twelve years of imprisonment in certain aggravating circumstances, including in case of risk to life or to the physical or mental integrity of the victim; increased vulnerability of the victim; commission of the crime through abuse of a position of authority; or if the offender was part of an organisation dedicated to a particular business or profession (in addition to the prohibition from engaging in activities related to that specific trade or profession).

Criminal liability of corporate bodies was introduced in Spain through an amendment of the Criminal Code in 2010. Under this amendment, companies are now criminally responsible, for the first time in Spanish legal history, for the commission of a number of specific offences, including human trafficking, money laundering, corruption, illegal trade, fraud, and offences against foreigners. The Code, however, exempts individual companies from criminal liability provided that they can prove that they have taken preventative action by implementing an effective compliance programme.

Companies found guilty of a criminal offence face serious fines, suspension of their activities and closure of their retail establishments, dissolution of the company, the prohibition from engaging in activities through which the crime was committed, and ineligibility to obtain public funds, to contract with the public sector, and to receive any benefits or incentives from the State. In addition to this, the Code also stipulates a specific penalty for corporate bodies found guilty of a human trafficking offence: a fine in the amount of three to five times the profit obtained from the commission of the crime.

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View all articles National context The Spanish concept of ‘human trafficking’ Criminal liability

The Criminal Code sets out a special penalty for corporations found guilty of human trafficking: a fine of 3 to 5 times the profit obtained