By Stephanie Ebbs
June 19 (Reuters) - The EU executive called on Tuesday for the creation of specialised law enforcement and cross-border investigation teams to combat human trafficking and forced labour in Europe.
The appeal to EU countries to step up efforts to tackle the problem comes shortly after the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - the UN's labour watchdog - announced that 20.9 million people globally are victims of forced labour, nine million of whom were removed from their home country.
The ILO reported seven percent of forced labourers are in the European Union and other developed economies like the United States.
"With these figures, we cannot rest," said the EU's Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom, announcing her proposal. "With this policy, which will be re-evaluated every two years, we will be able to say that humans are not for sale."
The call for anti-trafficking units is one element of the European Commission's strategy to eliminate forced labour and other practices that it describes as modern slavery, by 2016. Although it is not proposing new legislation, it can put pressure on countries to act.
"It is appalling to see that in our times human beings are still being put up for sale and being trafficked into forced labour or prostitution," said Malmstrom.
The Commission gave examples of human trafficking, including a Romanian woman coerced into prostitution in Belgium with the threat that her son would be reported to the authorities and deported.
The definition of human trafficking includes forced labour or prostitution, as well as child labour, modern slavery and forced marriage.
The EU has developed a four-year strategy to assist victims, promote cooperation among organisations working to fight trafficking and increase public awareness.
Maelstrom said that if EU countries set up law enforcement agencies to investigate traffickers they could increase the number of convictions from just 1,250 across all 27 states in the European Union in 2010.
"Human trafficking is a crime that is on the increase, but with fewer convictions," Maelstrom said. "That is a scandal."
The International Organization for Migration - an intergovernmental committee dedicated to humane migration- welcomed the EU's latest attempt to tackle the problem.
(Reporting By Stephanie Ebbs; Editing by Jon Hemming)