France has come under fire for not devoting enough resources to the fight against modern slavery, in a report published on Thursday by the CNCDH (France's National Commission for Human Rights),
Not enough people are aware of the scale of modern day slavery in France, the report concluded, adding that many think it relates only to prostitution.
“Human slavery in France is a little known reality,” the commission stated, adding that although sexual exploitation forms a “significant part” of the modern slave trade, it also encompasses domestic slavery, sweatshop workers, and minors who forced to work as beggars and thieves to help criminal organizations.
It also criticized the fact that France's justice system treats exploited minors as “criminals or illegal immigrants” rather than victims, explaining that those involved in criminal gangs, for example, are often abused and punished if they don't bring in enough money. A large pickpocketing ring, which used children as young as seven, was dismantled by police last month.
The CNCDH added that there is a misconception that only migrants who enter the country illegally are affected by trafficking whereas native French people, particularly vulnerable people, can also be victims of forced labour and exploitation.
For the past two years, the independent commission has consulted associations which work with victims to work out the scale of the problem in France.
The French government launched a national plan to combat slavery in 2014, but the CNCDH says the plan is “far from being effective” and that “a good number of measures have not been put in place”.
Between January 2014 and May 2015, almost one hundred violations relating to the slave trafficking occurred in France and almost 600 for prostitution, according to data from the Interior Ministry.
But the CNCDH believes these statistics only represent a small part of the problem, and that “potential victims of the slave trafficking do not identify themselves as such” and very rarely go to the police.
Two prominent cases which made headlines include a Normandy farmer who exploited a vulnerable refugee in his 50's, forcing him to work ten hours six days a week, and four on Sundays, for just €100-150 per month.
The farmer was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay damages to the man.
Just a few months earlier, a French couple faced trial for “buying” a 14-year-old domestic slave for €4,500.
In the coming days, the commission will present their report to the a group of ministers including the Ministers of Justice and the Interior Ministry.