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Summary

France is bound by international agreements and European Union directives to fight human trafficking.  At the national level, human trafficking is defined and prohibited by the Penal Code, and the different elements of the definition of human trafficking are individually prohibited by the Penal Code as well.  Additionally, some instances of human trafficking may fall under immigration or labor laws. 

The main government authority involved in the suppression of human trafficking is the National Police, which includes several specialized units that have missions that make them likely to discover and investigate cases of human trafficking.  The National Gendarmerie, a separate law enforcement agency, is also involved in the fight against human trafficking.  Additionally, labor inspectors are involved as the principal enforcers of labor laws in France. 

Documents published by the French government highlight the importance of implementing training programs to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking.  In particular, a two-year action plan published in 2014 places a high priority on a broad multidisciplinary training and continuing education program.  This training should be aimed not just at law enforcement personnel but also all other professions that are likely to encounter victims of human trafficking, including medical professionals, teachers, judges, lawyers, labor inspectors, and social workers.  It is unclear to what extent this training program has been implemented.

I.  Legal Framework on Human Trafficking

As a member of the European Union, France is required to implement Directive 2011/36/EU on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.[1]  Furthermore, France has ratified the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, also known as the Trafficking Protocol of the Palermo Convention.[2]  Additionally, at the national level, human trafficking is punished by the French Penal Code, which defines the crime (traite des êtres humains) as the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, housing, or receiving a person, under certain circumstances, for the purpose of exploitation.[3]  The circumstances listed as part of the definition of the crime of human trafficking include the use of threat, pressure, violence, deceit, abuse of authority, taking advantage of a victim’s vulnerability (age, illness, handicap, physical or mental deficiency, or pregnancy), the exchange of remuneration or other advantage, or the promise of remuneration or other advantage.[4]  Exploitation, in the context of human trafficking, is defined as the act of placing the victim at the disposal of the perpetrator or of another party, for the purpose of committing one or several of the following criminal offenses: procuring, sexual assault or violation, slavery, forced labor or services, servitude, organ harvesting, exploitation of begging, subjecting the victim to work or living conditions contrary to human dignity, or forcing the victim to commit a criminal offense.[5]

Other provisions of French law deal with human trafficking, sometimes overlapping with article 225-4-1 of the Penal Code.  Indeed, all of the elements of the definition of human trafficking are criminal offenses on their own.  In addition, some instances of human trafficking may fall under other laws as well.  The Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners, for example, contains provisions that prohibit helping foreigners to enter the country illegally.[6]  Similarly, the French Labor Code’s provisions on illegal labor may also apply to certain cases of human trafficking.[7]

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II.  Government Agencies Involved in Suppressing Human Trafficking

The principal government agency responsible for enforcing laws on human trafficking is the National Police (Police nationale), which has several services that deal with various aspects of human trafficking.[8]  Among these services is the Central Office for the Repression of Human Trafficking (Office central pour la répression de la traite des êtres humains).[9]  The name of this Office implies that it deals with human trafficking in general, but in reality its role is to focus solely on prostitution-related trafficking.[10]  Other specialized services of the National Police have responsibilities that cover different aspects of human trafficking.  For example, the Central Office Against Organized Crime (Office central de lutte contre le crime organisé),[11] the Central Office for the Repression of Violence Against Persons (Office central pour la répression des violences aux personnes),[12] the Sub-Directorate Against Cybercriminality (Sous-direction de lutte contre la cybercriminalité),[13] the Central Office for the Repression of Illegal Immigration and the Employment of Undocumented Foreigners (Office central pour la répression de l’immigration irrégulière et l’emploi d'étrangers sans titre),[14] and the Border Police (Police aux frontières)[15] all have missions that may lead them to discover and investigate instances of human trafficking.[16]

The National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie nationale) is another important law enforcement organization that may be called upon to deal with cases of human trafficking.  Traditionally, the National Police is in charge of law enforcement in urban areas, while the Gendarmerie operates in rural areas.[17]  Like the National Police, the Gendarmerie has some specialized services that are likely to find and investigate cases of human trafficking, although it does not appear to have any unit that specializes solely in that subject.[18]  Among these specialized services are the Central Office Against Illegal Labor (Office central de lutte contre le travail illegal),[19] the Central Office Against Itinerant Criminality (Office central de lutte contre la délinquance itinérante),[20] and units specializing in fighting online crime.[21]

Labor inspectors (inspecteurs du travail), who operate under the authority of regional prefects, also have an important role in suppressing human trafficking as they are the main enforcers of labor laws in France.[22]

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III.  Training Programs

A 2009 report by the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, CNCDH) repeatedly highlighted the value of training in the fight against human trafficking.[23]  In particular, the CNCDH pointed to the importance of training law enforcement officials on the signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking, and on the risks faced by victims of trafficking or exploitation.[24]  The CNCDH also noted that the agency in charge of evaluating asylum applications should train its officials to better identify and understand victims of human trafficking.[25]  The report highlighted the importance of training officials such as those from child protective services, and all other specialists who may come across instances of human trafficking.[26]

In 2013, the French government created an Inter-ministerial Mission for the Protection of Women Against Violence and to Fight Human Trafficking (Mission interministérielle pour la protection des femmes contre les violences et la lutte contre la traite des êtres humains).[27]  One of the mandates of this Inter-ministerial Mission is to define, in collaboration with the relevant governmental agencies and civil society actors, the contents of training on violence against women, including human trafficking.[28] 

In 2014, the government published a two-year national action plan to fight human trafficking.[29]  One of the first priorities listed in this twenty-three-point plan was to develop training for professionals to better identify and protect victims.[30]  This training, to be conducted by the Inter-ministerial Mission for the Protection of Women in partnership with relevant government agencies and civil society organizations, should include initial training modules followed by continuing education.[31]  The national plan specifies that this training should mainly focus on identifying victims of human trafficking, their rights, the procedures to exercise these rights, the appropriate measures to protect different categories of victims, and the roles of other organizations involved in the fight against human trafficking.[32]  This training should be aimed at a broad audience of professionals who may encounter victims of trafficking: not only law enforcement personnel, but also doctors and other medical professionals, social workers, judges and lawyers, teachers, labor inspectors, consular personnel, customs agents, correctional staff, and the personnel of the agency in charge of evaluating applications for asylum.[33]  The training curricula should be harmonized to promote the sharing of a common body of knowledge between all categories of professionals.[34]  In the same spirit, the educational resources used for this training should be made available to all relevant organizations through a dedicated website.[35]  It is unclear how much of this action plan has been implemented as of February 2016.

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
February 2016


[1] Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims, and Replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA, 2011 O.J. (L 101) 1, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX: 32011L0036&from=EN, archived at https://perma.cc/ZU8T-3ZYJ.

[2] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Nov. 15, 2000), Status as of Dec. 24, 2015, UNODC, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CTOC/countrylist-traffickingprotocol.html, archived at https://perma.cc/DH8D-JK3G.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile [Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and of the Right of Asylum] arts. L622-1 through L622-10, http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/ affichCode.do;jsessionid=C04365DF2063C6C78D12A6DAE5779FD5.tpdila18v_3?idSectionTA=LEGISCTA000006147789&cidTexte=
LEGITEXT000006070158&dateTexte=20160201
, archived at https://perma.cc/U9KL-968N.

[8] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme [French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights], La traite et l’exploitation des êtres humains en France [Human Trafficking and Exploitation in France] 115 (2009), http://www.cncdh.fr/sites/default/files/etude_traite_et_ exploitation_des_etres_humains_en_france.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/PS9P-W545.

[9] L’office central pour la répression de la traite des êtres humains [The Central Office for the Repression of Human Trafficking], Police Nationale [National Police] (Dec. 9, 2011), http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/ Organisation/Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Judiciaire/Lutte-contre-la-criminalite-organisee/Office-central-pour-la-repression-de-la-traite-des-etres-humains, archived at https://perma.cc/Z5HY-MYF2.

[10] Id.; Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, supra note 8, at 116.

[11] L’office central de lutte contre le crime organisé [Central Office Against Organized Crime], Police Nationale [National Police] (Dec. 8, 2011), http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Judiciaire/Lutte-contre-la-criminalite-organisee/Office-central-de-lutte-contre-le-crime-organise, archived at https://perma.cc/RSQ6-95D6.

[12] L’Office central pour la répression des violences aux personnes [The Central Office for the Repression of Violence Against Persons], Police Nationale [National Police] (Dec. 9, 2011), http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Judiciaire/Lutte-contre-la-criminalite-organisee/Office-central-pour-la-repression-des-violences-aux-personnes, archived at https://perma.cc/DW9H-92P7.

[13] Sous-direction de lutte contre la cybercriminalité [Sub-Directorate Against Cybercriminality], Police Nationale [National Police] (Dec. 13, 2011), http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/ Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Judiciaire/Lutte-contre-la-criminalite-organisee/Sous-direction-de-lutte-contre-la-cybercriminalite, archived at https://perma.cc/HE3J-KULM.

[14] Office central pour la répression de l’immigration irrégulière et l’emploi d’étrangers sans titre [Central Office for the Repression of Illegal Immigration and the Employment of Undocumented Foreigners], Police Nationale [National Police] (Oct. 10, 2011), http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Aux-Frontieres/Office-central-pour-la-repression-de-l-immigration-irreguliere-et-l-emploi-d-etrangers-sans-titre, archived at https://perma.cc/EYE4-3PLS.

[15] Direction Centrale de la Police Aux Frontières [Central Directorate of the Border Police], Police Nationale [National Police], http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/Direction-Centrale-de-la-Police-Aux-Frontieres (last visited Feb. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/5UC7-7N2Q.

[16] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, supra note 8, at 116–23.

[17] Benoît Dupont, The French Police System, in Comparative Policing 255 (M.R. Haberfeld & Ibrahim Cerrah eds., 2008).

[18] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, supra note 8, at 120–23.

[19] Travail illégal (OCLTI) [Illegal Labor (OCLTI)], Gendarmerie nationale [National Gendarmerie], http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/Notre-Institution/Nos-missions/Police-judiciaire/Travail-illegal-OCLTI (last visited Feb. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/LDX9-YHMK

[20] Délinquance itinérante (OCLDI) [Itinerant Criminality (OCLDI)], Gendarmerie nationale [National Gendarmerie], http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/Notre-Institution/Nos-missions/Police-judiciaire/Delinquance-itinerante-OCLDI (last visited Feb. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/RKE8-26WC.

[21] Cybercriminalité [Cybercriminality], Gendarmerie nationale [National Gendarmerie], http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/Notre-Institution/Nos-missions/Police-judiciaire/Cybercriminalite (last visited Feb. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/Y6BJ-87XW.

[22] Simon Auffret, A quoi sert un inspecteur du travail? [What is the Purpose of a Labor Inspector?], Le Monde (Oct. 22, 2015), http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/10/21/a-quoi-sert-un-inspecteur-du-travail_4794202_4355770.html, archived at https://perma.cc/X3UE-W78R.

[23] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, supra note 8, at 231, 247, 280, 286, 298.

[24] Id. at 231.

[25] Id. at 247–48.

[26] Id. at 280, 295.

[27] Décret n° 2013-7 du 3 janvier 2013 portant création d’une mission interministérielle pour la protection des femmes contre les violences et la lutte contre la traite des êtres humains [Decree No. 2013-7 of January 3, 2013, Creating an Inter-ministerial Mission for the Protection of Women Against Violence and to Fight Human Trafficking], http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000026894612&categorieLien=id, archived at https://perma.cc/W9CW-FRK6.

[28] Id. art. 2.

[29] Ministère des droits des femmes, de la ville, de la jeunesse et des sports [Ministry for Women’s Rights, Urban Policy, Youth, and Sports], Plan d’action national contre la traite des êtres humains (2014–2016) [National Action Plan Against Human Trafficking (2014–2016)] (2014), http://femmes. gouv.fr/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Plan-daction-national-contre-la-traite-des-%C3%AAtres-humains.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/PE6C-ARGW.

[30] Id. at 6, 9–10.

[31] Id. at 9.

[32] Id.

[33] Id. at 10.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

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Last Updated: 03/18/2016