The report says hundreds of thousands of woman are forced to work as prostitutes across the EU (Reuters)
The report says hundreds of thousands of woman are forced to work as prostitutes across the EU (Reuters)

At least 880,000 people are forced to work in slave-like conditions across the European Union, with more than a quarter of a million victims of sexual exploitation, according to a European Parliament committee.

The report by the European Parliament Special Committee Investigating Crime, Money Laundering and Corruption (CRIM) estimates that human trafficking alone generated around €25bn (£21bn) across the EU last year.

Cases of slave labour have been reported in all 27 countries in the EU, with the report saying woman and children are most vulnerable to exploitation.

The report states that of the 880,000 'slaves' in the EU, these notably include "children that are forced to beg, men who are forced to work for pitifully low wages, and women who are forced to work as prostitutes."

The recession and economic austerity have increased the risks of gangs exploiting people in Europe, as desperate people "can sometimes provide [criminals] with new victims".

"The economic crisis of recent years has resulted in significant changes in the areas of interest of organised crime, which has been able quickly to identify the new opportunities being offered," the report adds.

The report, seen by German magazine Der Spiegel, estimates that here are 3,600 international organised crime gangs operating within the EU, with trade in human organs and wild animals generating a further €34bn annually for criminals.

Goods such as weapons, drugs and even nuclear substances are also being trafficked into EU countries, according to the figures compiled using data from Interpol, Europol and the United Nations.

The committee has also described rampant corruption in the EU as a "serious threat", with 20 million cases registered in the public sector alone costing €120bn.

The report is set to be looked at by the European Parliament on 23 October. It is hoped they will discuss plans to impose tougher sanctions of traffickers and intensifiy cross-border cooperation between police forces.

"We need to stand united in the fight against mafias," Salvatore Iacolino, an Italian MEP who drafted the proposals,. "Now it is up to member states to follow up and bring forward the measures we are proposing here."