National context

argentinaInstances of forced labour and human trafficking for labour exploitation have been found in Argentina, mainly in sweatshops and in agriculture, but also in a variety of other sectors including street vending, charcoal and brick production, domestic work, and in the retail sector. According to the Ministry of Justice, 8894 victims of trafficking were rescued between the adoption of the Anti-Trafficking Law in 2008 and April 2015, roughly half of whom had been subjected to trafficking for labour exploitation. Abuses suffered by workers include the retention of personal documents, very poor or unsafe working conditions, wage manipulation and unlawful wage deductions, keeping workers in a continuous cycle of debt and precarious employment.

According to a report published in 2014 by the Attorney General’s Unit against Human Trafficking, 70% of all victims of trafficking for labour identified in Argentina in recent years were foreign nationals; with Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and China as the most prominent countries of origin. Within the country, people are trafficked mostly from rural areas in the northern regions of Argentina, to urban centers, where the exploitation of labour takes place. In particular, the province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires receive a significant influx of victims of human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.

The Argentine concept of ‘human trafficking for labour exploitation’

The Argentine definition of human trafficking is found in article 2 of Law No. 26,364 on the Prevention and Sanctioning of Human Trafficking and Assistance to Victims. The criminal offense of human trafficking under Argentine law differs from the UN Human Trafficking Protocol definition, in that in only requires two constituent elements:

  • The action: the offering, recruitment, transportation, transfer, or receipt of persons; and
  • The exploitative purpose, namely: slavery, servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and organ trafficking.

Significantly, coercive ‘means’ are not an essential component of the criminal offence of human trafficking under Argentine legislation, but rather operate as aggravating circumstances. This provision further clarifies that the consent of the victim to being subjected to exploitation is irrelevant for the purposes of the law.

Criminal liability 

The Argentine Criminal Code contains specific provisions criminalising all forms of human trafficking —punished with 4 to 10 years of imprisonment— as well as servitude, slavery and forced labour —punished with 4 to 15 years of imprisonment. The Argentine Criminal Code does not apply to legal persons, and therefore this Code does not ensure the criminal accountability of corporations for their involvement in human trafficking, forced labour and slavery. However, while legal persons may not be prosecuted under the Criminal Code, the individual agents or representatives of the corporate body responsible for the commission of a criminal offence may be held criminally liable. Furthermore, legal persons may be liable for the payment of damages caused as a result of a crime.

In addition to this, article 23 of the Code provides for the seizure of any goods, including real estate, used to commit a human trafficking offence, or to subject a worker to conditions of slavery, forced labour or servitude. If the traffickers acted as agents of a company, and that company benefited from the product or the proceeds of the crime, the seizure will be directed towards the company. The goods seized under this provision are assigned to victims’ assistance programs.

39 convictions for trafficking for labour exploitation were obtained in Argentina, between the adoption of the Anti-Trafficking Law in 2008, up until the end of 2014. While there has been a significant improvement in prosecution rates in the last few years, this remains a disproportionately low number when compared to the 3,411 victims of labour trafficking that were reportedly identified between 2008 and until April 2014. While victims of trafficking for labour exploitation make up approximately 50% of all victims of trafficking identified, labour trafficking only represents a 28% of total indictments for human trafficking offences.

Enforcement of labour standards

The Public Registry of Employers with Labour Sanctions (REPSAL) is a publicly accessible list containing the names and key information of employers that have received final sanctions for a number of breaches of the labour law, including: the failure to register as an employer; failure to register workers; obstructing the work of the labour inspectorate; as well as any violation of the Law on the Prohibition of Child Labour; and of Law No. 26,364 (the Anti-Trafficking Law). Employers included in the list are banned from entering into agreements and contracts with the Federal State and from receiving any benefits or credit from public financial entities.

As of June 1st, 2015, there were over 700 employers listed on the REPSAL registry, employing almost 25,000 employees (this number only represents registered workers, the actual number will probably be considerably higher). However, it must be noted that as of September 2015, there were no employers listed in the REPSAL registry as a result of a violation of Law No. 26,364 on the Prevention and Sanctioning of Human Trafficking and Assistance to Victims.

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Employers in the Public Registry of Employers with Labour Sanctions are banned from entering contracts with the Federal State and from receiving credit from public financial entities