Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!

× Learn more
No, thanks Photo: Abbas Atilay
back  |  printBookmark and Share

Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan Among Worst Human Trafficking Offenders in the World

U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report can result in penalties limiting access to international assistance.

2 July 2018

The annual Trafficking In Persons report analyzed 187 countries around the world and ranked them into three tiers according to how local communities and governments are fighting against human trafficking.  


Russia remains one of the worst offenders for the sixth consecutive year, staying  in Tier 3, the lowest-ranking category in the report. Belarus and Turkmenistan were placed in Tier 3 as well.


The report said that the Russian “authorities did not report assisting any victims and lacked a process for the identification of victims and their referral to care.”


The widespread use of individuals forced into labor has made the lack of a thorough screening process even more dire. The U.S. State Department estimates that there are between 5 and 12 million foreign workers in Russia, while The Global Slavery Index estimates that over 1 million people are victims of human trafficking in the country.


Labor migration to Russia, largely from other parts of the former Soviet Union, is closely correlated to the human trafficking problem. Most instances of forced labor have been reported in the construction, agricultural, and manufacturing industries, with the Trafficking in Persons report saying, “Many of these migrant workers experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, or extremely poor living conditions.”


The report ranked Turkmenistan in Tier 3 for the third subsequent year. The Central Asian country has been repeatedly accused of exploiting both the student and adult populations, leading to calls in the report to “take action to end the use of forced adult labor, especially during the annual cotton harvest, particularly by modifying government policies that create pressure for mobilization of labor.”


Belarus, in Tier 3 since 2015, was also singled out for similar infractions, with the report saying Minsk has “maintained policies that actively compelled the forced labor of its citizens, including civil servants, students, part-time workers, and the unemployed, citizens suffering from drug or alcohol dependency, and, at times, critics of the government, among others,” the report said.


Any country that is given a Tier 3 ranking risks American sanctions limiting access to U.S. and international foreign assistance, according to Reuters.



  • Human trafficking has benefited from the overflow of migrants searching for safety and economic opportunities in Europe, as illegal smuggling networks earned an estimated $5-6 billion in 2015 alone, the same year that the migrant crisis peaked.


  • The U.S. recently banned all imports of cotton from Turkmenistan. Human rights advocates and groups hailed the decision as a key effort in discouraging the country’s forced labor policies.


  • Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia were listed among the Tier 2 countries, defined as places that do not fully meet the minimum standards but are nonetheless making significant efforts to comply with them.

Compiled by Tyler Haughn

back  |  printBookmark and Share


Transitions magazine = Your one-stop source for news, research and analysis on the post-communist region.


Sign up for the free TOL newsletter!



Moldovan diaries

The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes. 

It is a unique and intimate map of the nation.


© Transitions Online 2018. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
Published by Transitions o.s., Baranova 33, 130 00 Prague 3, Czech Republic.