Home > Forced labour and the drug trade.

Connolly, Johnny (2014) Forced labour and the drug trade. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 50, Summer 2014, pp. 19-20.

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Forced labour in the production of cannabis is the subject of a research report by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).1 According to MRCI, this phenomenon involves human trafficking for the purpose of criminal exploitation. The study examined trafficking for cannabis production ‘specifically focusing on cases and reports where Vietnamese and Chinese nationals were involved’ (p.1). The research is part of a wider European study led by the Anti-Slavery International (ASI) Race in Europe project. ASI has identified a trend in victims being trafficked from Vietnam to Ireland via the UK in recent years. 

In Ireland, human trafficking for criminal exploitation has only recently been criminalised, under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013. Consequently, there is limited available data on the effect of the legislation. The MRCI study involved semi-structured interviews with members of the legal profession, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the Department of Justice and Equality which was established in 2008, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination unit within An Garda Síochána, established in 2009, and the Chaplain Service at Mountjoy prison. An analysis of media articles and press releases was also conducted and a number of case studies are presented in the MRCI report. 

The report highlights the increase in domestic cannabis cultivation in Ireland in the last five years, noting the dismantling of 500 cannabis cultivation sites by the gardaí during 2011. It refers to a recent EU drug market study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol which reported the involvement of Vietnamese and Chinese organised crime groups (OCGs) in cannabis cultivation in Ireland.2 According to the MRCI, there were 80 people of Asian origin in Irish prisons in 2013 for drug-related offences, with 50 of these in custody for cannabis cultivation. The report refers to numerous newspaper and online media articles about cases involving Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, and presents two MRCI case studies, which are abridged below. 

Mr W was offered the opportunity to move to Ireland from the UK, where he had been paid below the minimum wage for a number of years. He was offered work in a Chinese restaurant as a porter. On arrival in Ireland, he was taken to a small house in a rural location. He was told to water the plants in the house and that, if he tried to escape, he would be killed by the recruiter’s boss, who was Irish. W escaped and contacted An Garda Síochána. He was hospitalised for a number of days suffering from exposure. He was then arrested on drugs charges and later imprisoned. The courts requested An Garda Síochána to conduct an assessment of human trafficking. Trafficking was not identified by the relevant Garda in this case.

Mr B, a Vietnamese national was offered a job in Ireland as a gardener. He was smuggled out of Asia and ended up in an industrial estate in rural Ireland. He was locked in a barn and ordered to look after hundreds of plants and control the hoses, lights and heaters. He slept on a mattress and was brought food once per week. He had no idea what country he was in, but he knew he was minding a cannabis factory. When police located the barn, they found B locked inside. Through an interpreter he told them he had been kept as a slave, forced to tend to the plants and threatened with violence. He told them he had received no money. B was charged with possession of the plants and faces a mandatory minimum ten-year prison sentence.


The report states that, ‘out of all the Vietnamese nationals who have been arrested and charged with cannabis cultivation since 2010, no cases of trafficking for forced labour have been identified by an Garda Síochána’ (p.5). As a consequence, ‘potential victims are being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for crimes they may have been forced to commit – while their traffickers enjoy impunity’ (p.5). MRCI argues that the inability of An Garda Síochána to identify victims in such circumstances has created the need for such victims to be ‘formally identified’ by an agency like the Health Service Executive, with the co-operation of MRCI, so that victims can receive the care and attention they require. 

Included among the other recommendations of the study are the following:

  • All cases of potential trafficking for forced labour in cannabis production should be investigated for human trafficking by An Garda Síochána.
  • An independent national rapporteur should be appointed by the government to identify trends in human trafficking and address problems of lack of identification and prosecution.
  • Victims should be provided with a reflection and recovery period, safe accommodation, health care, counselling and financial supports where they have been identified as a suspected victim of human trafficking.
  • Training needs to be provided by ASI and MRCI for investigators, prosecutors, judiciary, and the legal profession to equip them with the skills to identify such potential victims.
  • A non-punishment clause should be included in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 to ensure that victims of trafficking are exempt from prosecution for offences that they were forced to commit. 

MRCI intends to conduct further research in this area in the future as more information becomes available.


  1. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (2014) Trafficking for forced labour in cannabis production: the case of Ireland. Dublin: MRCI. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21642
  2. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Europol (2013) EU drug markets report: a strategic analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19227. For a review of this study, see Connolly J (2013) EU drug markets – a strategic analysis. Drugnet Ireland, (45): 8–9.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 50, Summer 2014
July 2014
Page Range
pp. 19-20
Health Research Board
Issue 50, Summer 2014
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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