Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking remains the predominant human trafficking problem within Russia, accelerating in the context of Russia’s significant increase in labor migration. Official and unofficial statistics estimate that there are between five million and 12 million foreign workers in Russia. According to official statistics, in 2013, an estimated 1.1 million labor migrants were employed in the Moscow region alone. Of this number, 22,000 worked in the housing and utilities sector, 110,000 in the construction industry, and the rest worked primarily as public transport drivers, seasonal agricultural workers, tailors and garment workers in underground garment factories, and vendors at marketplaces and shops. Many of these migrant workers experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, or extremely poor living conditions. During the year, workers from Russia and other countries in Europe, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and North Korea, were subjected to forced labor in Russia. Instances of labor trafficking have been reported in the construction, manufacturing, agriculture, grocery store, maritime, and domestic service industries, as well as in forced begging, waste sorting, and street sweeping; trafficking also continued to be prevalent in textile and garment factories. In factories in the Moscow suburbs, textile workers were beaten, poorly fed, refused medical care, and prohibited from leaving the factory. Human Rights Watch reports that construction of facilities for major events drew estimated tens of thousands of migrant laborers to Russia. Human Rights Watch also documented that employers of construction projects related to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi withheld pay, disregarded contracts, and seized passports and work permits to keep workers in conditions of exploitation. Human Rights Watch and other sources reported that Russian authorities rounded up many of these migrants, many of whom were vulnerable to human trafficking, for alleged status violations and detained or deported them without any reported efforts to identify them as trafficking victims. According to official sources, there have been criminal cases involving Russian officials allegedly facilitating trafficking in the country, including by facilitating victims’ entry into Russia, providing protection to traffickers, and returning trafficking victims to their exploiters, and of employers bribing Russian officials to avoid enforcement of penalties for engaging illegal workers. Organized crime syndicates from Russia were also involved in arranging trafficking. According to the Federal Migration Service, under a state-to-state agreement, approximately 20,000 North Korean citizens are imported annually by the North Korea government for work in Russia in a variety of sectors, including the logging industry in Russia’s Far East, and many of these North Korean citizens reportedly are subjected to conditions of forced labor. There were also reports of Russian citizens facing forced labor abroad.
Reports of Russian women and children subjected to sex trafficking, both in Russia and abroad, continued in 2013. Also in 2013, Russian citizens were reportedly victims of sex trafficking in many countries, including in Northeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. There were also reports of children and women from European (predominantly Ukraine and Moldova), Southeast Asian (primarily Vietnam), African, and Central Asian countries being forced into prostitution in Russia. Law enforcement cases from this reporting year indicate that forced prostitution occurs in brothels, hotels, and saunas, among other locations; certain traffickers advertised the sexual services of some minors over the internet.
The Government of Russia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, an international organization opened a trafficking shelter in space granted by a municipal government in St. Petersburg. The government also submitted to the Russian Security Council for approval a national anti-trafficking in persons action plan, which included a request for authority to appoint a trafficking rapporteur. The Security Council did not announce a decision on this request. The absence of a national action plan, to combat trafficking, non-existence of a single coordinating authority for anti-trafficking efforts, and the absence of funding in the federal and local budgets for trafficking prevention and victim protection illustrated the Government of Russia’s low political will to address human trafficking. The Russian government has signed the Program of Cooperation between CIS Member States against Trafficking in Persons, but to date there have been no specific steps taken toward implementation. Previous promises of creating an interagency committee to address human trafficking were not fulfilled. During the reporting period, the government did not establish any concrete system for the identification or care of trafficking victims and lacked a victim referral mechanism, though there were reports of victims being identified and provided assistance on an ad hoc basis. Prosecutions remained low compared with estimates of Russia’s trafficking problem. The government detained and deported hundreds of migrant workers, many of whom were vulnerable to human trafficking, without any reported efforts to identify them as trafficking victims.
Recommendations for Russia:
Develop formal national procedures to guide law enforcement and other government officials, including labor inspectors and health officials, in identification and referral of victims to service providers; allocate funding to state bodies and anti-trafficking NGOs to provide specialized trafficking victim assistance and rehabilitative care; establish a national rapporteur to be a central coordinator for the Russian government’s response to trafficking; create a national anti-trafficking action plan; increase efforts to identify and assist both sex and labor trafficking victims, particularly among exploited labor migrants in Russia; implement a formal policy to ensure identified victims of trafficking are not punished or detained in deportation centers for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; ensure that victims have access to legal alternatives to deportation to countries where they face hardship or retribution; increase the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for trafficking offenses, and investigate and criminally punish government officials complicit in trafficking; create a central repository for investigation, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing data for trafficking cases; increase efforts to raise public awareness of both sex and labor trafficking; and take steps to investigate allegations and prevent the use of forced labor in construction projects and North Korean-operated labor camps.
The Government of Russia demonstrated law enforcement efforts during the reporting period, although such efforts were far lower than the estimated occurrence of trafficking in the country. Articles 127.1 and 127.2 of the Russian criminal code prohibit both sex trafficking and forced labor, although they also cover non-trafficking offenses. Other criminal statutes were also used to prosecute trafficking offenders, such as Articles 240 and 241 for involvement in or organizing prostitution. Article 127 prescribes punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2013, law enforcement agencies registered 66 reports of crimes of trafficking in persons, of which 63 were for the purpose of sexual exploitation. According to media reports, the government investigated at least 15 potential sex trafficking suspects under Article 127.1, and at least five labor trafficking cases under Article 127.2 in 2013. By comparison, the government investigated 70 sex trafficking and 17 labor trafficking cases in 2012. The government reportedly prosecuted at least 18 defendants in seven cases of sex trafficking and at least ten defendants in four cases of forced labor in 2013, compared with twenty-two sex trafficking prosecutions and ten labor trafficking prosecutions in 2012. Russian authorities report they often charge sex trafficking cases under Articles 241 and 240, addressing the inducement to and organization of prostitution, as the elements of those crimes are often easier to prove; there is no public information on how many such cases involved forced as opposed to voluntary prostitution. In 2013, at least 28 trafficking offenders were convicted under Article 127.1, the article typically used for sex trafficking crimes, and four traffickers were convicted of the use of slave labor under Article 127.2, compared with a total of 29 people convicted under Article 127.1 and five convicted under Article 127.2 in 2012. Official sources reported that 23 trafficking offenders were sentenced to imprisonment, and nine were given suspended sentences; in 2012, 26 offenders were sentenced to imprisonment, seven were given suspended sentences, and two sentenced to other dispositions. Unofficial reports confirmed sentences of a few months’ to 13 years’ imprisonment, slightly higher than last year’s range of up to 12 years’ imprisonment. In some regions of Russia, experts report that authorities ignore or fail to pursue cases of human trafficking.
During the reporting period, the former chief of the Criminal Investigation Unit of a police precinct in the Chuvash Republic, who had provided protection to a trafficking ring, received two suspended sentences of eight years’ and four years’ imprisonment. The Moscow Police Department initiated a criminal case under Article 127.2 against one official of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) and two suburban Moscow police officers, alleging that the suspects had organized illegal entry to Russia of over 700 foreign citizens, primarily nationals of Vietnam, for the purpose of labor exploitation at an illegal garment factory in Moscow. The government initiated a prosecution against a Samara region senior investigator charged with refusing to initiate a criminal case of deprivation of liberty of two women by a criminal group. The government did not report progress in complicity cases cited in the past TIP Report, including the instance of a Moscow criminal case against a police officer who allegedly forced two women into prostitution. The North Korean government continued to export workers for bilateral contracts with Russia and other foreign governments. Despite reports of slave-like conditions of North Koreans working in Russia, the Russian government did not report any investigations into such situations.
The Russian authorities reportedly collaborated with some foreign law enforcement bodies on the investigation of transnational trafficking cases. There were reports that Russian law enforcement was not always cooperative or responsive to investigative requests from foreign governments. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the lead law enforcement agency in the majority of trafficking cases, conducted regular training during the reporting period designed to guide its officers in handling trafficking cases. According to government officials, the General Procuracy, the Investigative Committee, the Russian Academy for Justice (training of judges), and the Russian Academy of Advocacy (training of lawyers) also provided periodic training on handling human trafficking cases.
The Russian government continued to demonstrate minimal progress in efforts to protect human trafficking victims during the reporting period; a majority of foreign labor trafficking victims remained outside the scope of victim protection. Government-funded victim care was not available for the vast majority of trafficking victims in the country, and victims were routinely deported and detained with no effort to identify them or refer them to care. The government did not develop or employ a formal system to guide officials in proactive identification of trafficking victims or referral of victims to available services, and there continued to be no available official statistics on the number of trafficking victims identified or assisted by the government or NGOs. One of the agencies most frequently in contact with potential trafficking victims, the FMS, did not have the authority to conduct investigative activities into suspected cases of trafficking, which resulted in trafficking victims being punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Russian authorities charged some suspected trafficking victims with residing illegally in the territory of Russia without the proper papers and reportedly deported trafficking victims without offering assistance. Throughout the summer and fall of 2013, the Russian government also conducted sweeps of areas with migrant labor, rounded up thousands of migrants, and charged the migrants without screening for indicators of trafficking. There were also reports that Russian authorities deported Nigerian and Kenyan sex trafficking victims in 2013 without any investigation into the crime, despite the victims’ fear of retribution in their home countries. In several such cases involving foreign victims in one region of Russia, police chose to deport these individuals instead of prosecuting the traffickers.
The government did not publicly report any funding or programs for specific assistance to trafficking victims, and the government did not verify how many trafficking victims benefitted from funding or programs intended for other general purposes, such as witness protection, child protection, or government crisis centers, which were unlikely to accept victims who were not registered in the district in which the center is located. Foreign trafficking victims, the largest group of victims in Russia, were not entitled to access state-provided rehabilitative services. No ministry has publicly acknowledged responsibility for or agreed to use ministerial budgets to create and operate shelters for victims or create and sustain a national referral mechanism that would refer victims to assistance providers. In April 2013, the Russian Red Cross opened a foreign-funded eight-bed trafficking shelter in a space granted by the St. Petersburg municipal government. The shelter has cared for 19 victims since its opening, including victims from Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Russia. Various organizations referred victims to the shelter, including elements of the Russian federal government.
Russian authorities reported that a December 2013 amendment to the law on state protection of victims, witnesses, and other participants in criminal proceedings expanded the rights of crime victims, including through damage compensation and notice to victims on the release of convicts. However, because the text of the law does not distinguish any specific category of victims, it is not clear whether it would benefit trafficking victims and there was no evidence that it has thus far been used to protect such victims. Although a law on temporary residency provided the opportunity for a person officially recognized as a victim of human trafficking to apply for an adjustment of pre-existing temporary residency permits, there were no reports that any trafficking victims received such a benefit and this law would not apply to any trafficking victims who were illegally present in Russia. There were otherwise no trafficking-specific formal legal alternatives to deportation for foreign victims.
Russia’s national government demonstrated limited efforts to prevent trafficking over the reporting period. During the reporting period, there were no efforts to develop public awareness of possible forced labor or sex trafficking. The government did fund three projects to prevent trafficking, including for the prevention of the use of forced labor of soldiers in the armed forces and for the development of a pilot prototype of the Russian National Monitoring Center for Missing Children and Child Victims. In June 2013, the prosecutor general’s office posted an article on its website providing an overview of Russian trafficking cases and international law on trafficking, including recommendations for increased activities to fight trafficking; the article advocated for prosecutorial oversight of the anti-trafficking fight in Russia.
The government did not have a body to monitor its anti-trafficking activities or make periodic assessments measuring its performance. In early December 2013, representatives of the prosecutor general’s office announced they had submitted a national anti-trafficking action plan that included a request for authority to appoint an anti-trafficking rapporteur to the Russian Security Council for approval. At the close of the reporting period, neither the action plan nor the rapporteur were in place, and the Commonwealth of Independent States anti-trafficking plan remained the Government of Russia’s sole anti-trafficking plan, but has not yet been implemented. The government took efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by newly criminalizing obtaining the sexual services of a minor aged 16 to 18 years old. The government did not report any specific measures to ensure that its military personnel, when deployed abroad as part of peacekeeping or other similar missions, did not engage in or facilitate human trafficking.