[Bulgaria] The $150 Billion Business of Human Trafficking

26 Sep 2019

According to the ILO, some 40 million people are victims of slavery (70% of whom are women): 25 million people in forced labour, and 15 million in forced marriage.

Recently, 165 suspected victims of slavery from Bulgaria were discovered working for French winemakers during a crackdown on organized crime. French officials have arrested four suspects (three Bulgarian, one French) who collaborated with wineries near Lyon, according to Europol, Europe’s policing agency.

The workers were recruited by a legitimate employment agency in Bulgaria, and were told they would receive 60 euros daily, as well as transport and housing expenses. Yet, they ended up staying at a campsite and money was deducted from their wages for meals. They were denied the full amount of their wages when their contracts ended, and many were unable to return to Bulgaria.

Such operations earn traffickers upwards of $150 billion a year worldwide. Lucy International and the International Labour Organization (ILO) broke down the $150 billion:

  • $99 billion (commercial sexual exploitation)
  • $34 billion (construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities sectors)
  • $9 billion (agriculture, forestry, fishing)
  • $8 billion saved annually by private households (forced labour of domestic workers)

An ILO report from 2017 ranks slavery-impacted regions as follows:

  1. Africa (7.6 out of every 1,000 people involved).
  2. Asia
  3. Pacific
  4. Europe (3.6 out of every 1,000 people—especially Eastern Europeans, and foremost, Bulgarians)
  5. Central Asia

Data is insufficient in the Arab states and the Americas.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (which Bulgaria has adopted) defines trafficking in persons to include the recruitment, transportation and transfer by means of the threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, for the purpose of exploitation.

The main form of exploitation in Bulgaria is human trafficking for sexual slavery, but victims for labour exploitation and forced begging continues to grow as well.


Series this is part of: 

This project is funded by:


Terre des hommes Regional Office
1027 Budapest,
Bem rakpart 50. T.1,

Phone: (36 1) 266-5922

Send us an email