22 Latvians have become victims of forced labor in past 4 years

Over the past four years, 22 Latvian nationals have become victims of forced labor in Latvia and foreign countries, Lasma Stabina, national anti-trafficking coordinator at the Latvian Interior Ministry, said June 26 as the ministry launched a campaign on safe travel and labor exploitation risks.

The ministry’s representative noted a lack of research in Latvia on people’s awareness of trafficking issues and that people’s attitude to human trafficking therefore can be described as quite reckless. Citing the Central Statistics Bureau’s data, Stabina indicated that an estimated 49 Latvian nationals leave the country a day, most of them with the aim to find better-paying jobs in foreign countries.

“There are no studies or statistics that would provide a clear and credible picture of how the Latvians in foreign countries are doing, and there is no information to safely conclude that the trafficking victims identified in foreign countries are separate cases and that most Latvians work for decent employers. Concerns also remain that many more Latvian nationals have become victims of human trafficking and exploitation of labor. These cases in foreign countries have not been discovered and the exploitation continues, providing huge profit to the employers,” Stabina said.

The Interior Ministry’s official also informed that two criminal investigations into the exploitation of Latvian laborers in Germany and the UK and large-scale money laundering are still ongoing. The number of persons involved in these cases, including witnesses, victims and suspects, exceeds 140. Latvian law enforcement authorities have frozen €500,000 worth of various assets as part of their clampdown on human trafficking.

“Job-seekers often fail to properly analyze job offers and potential employers, they either do not conclude any labor agreement at all or sign a contract that has been written in a language they do not understand. Women and men are misled, defrauded and employed in menial jobs for small wages or without any wage. Women are usually forced into prostitution or sham marriages,” Stabina said.

The Interior Ministry believes that information campaigns are a tool that can help change the situation and raise public awareness of the exploitation risks, Stabina said. The ministry has therefore worked out a number of recommendations to persons who want to go to work abroad. The first recommendation is to get to know the potential employer and conclude a fair and comprehensible labor contract, as well as to film one’s new workplace and send the video to relatives. “This footage can prove useful in disputes with the employer if he claims that the workers have been provided with great working and living conditions,” the Interior Ministry’s representative said.

Latvian guest workers in foreign countries are also advised to keep their ID papers and not give them to somebody else, as well as to send family or friends their contacts in the foreign country.

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