Why we need to move Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Posted on October 7th, 2014 by Genevieve Le Baron

By Neil Howard, Genevieve LeBaron and Cameron Thibos

3.2519 Nepalese-mother1.jpg
3.2519 Nepalese-mother1” by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department – http://www.gtipphotos.state.gov/photos.htm. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past fifteen years, forced labour, trafficking, and slavery have become issues of major political and media concern. Governments worldwide have passed a wave of ‘anti-slavery’ and ‘anti-trafficking’ legislation, championed as a solution to the constant stream of media reports documenting horrific abuse and serious exploitation. So why is it that most sources continue to show a rise in severe exploitation in a range of contexts, despite the laudable aims and billions of dollars channelled into these initiatives?

There’s actually very little evidence to show that existing anti-slavery initiatives are effective in ensuring prevention or in providing protection to victims. In addition, there are serious questions about the marginal difference between ‘slaves’, ‘victims of trafficking’, and ordinary people who are just plain exploited within the capitalist system and as a result of myriad social hierarchies. What are these policies doing if they’re not safeguarding the very people they’re supposedly designed to protect.

This site aspires to be an alternative to the many ‘Modern-Day Slavery Hubs’ dotted across conventional media. While these outlets make an important contribution, they often feature stories that are sensationalist, de-politicised, and based on questionable research. We are here to go beyond such simplicity. Our editors will marshal the best of contemporary scholarship to provide informed, nuanced, and focused analysis. They’ll engage practitioners and policy-makers about life inside the policy system, and link failings to wider questions about the nature of the societies in which we live.

The site contains several sections. In addition to a regular stream of articles, we have a blog for short pieces from a wide range of voices – for which we invite contributions – as well as a pedagogical section. The latter contains clear, concise introductions to all the major issues, and recommends both essential and radical texts for further reading. As we are academics at heart who are always looking for good teaching materials, we’ll also make the articles published on this site available as e-books for use in the classroom later in the year.

Over the next 12 months you’ll see dozens of pieces from academics and practitioners on a range of debates. Starting in January, each month will focus on a distinct theme. We’ll begin by examining the common misconceptions of slavery, trafficking, and forced labour as promoted by politicians and across the mainstream media. We’ll follow this by looking at how political structures, economic systems, and legal frameworks sustain and entrench human vulnerability in a way that allows such exploitation and domination to flourish in plain sight.

We’ll take apart historical legacies to open up questions of reparation, parallels between then and now, and the similarities and differences between practices, places and policies. This will involve asking how migration and mobility regimes limit mobility and distinguish who can and cannot be legally exploited. Similarly important will be questioning dominant ideas about ‘race’, ‘caste’, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘belonging’. The history of the Atlantic Slave Trade shows that exploitation has always been predicated on conceptions of hierarchy – whatever the axis upon which it turns – and our contributors will examine how and why that remains the case today. Other fault lines include gender and generation – meaning men, women, adults and children – and our writers will look at feminized forms of forced labour, the absence of men from discourses around trafficking, and the problems pertaining to the ‘child labour’ legislation that criminalizes adolescent livelihood strategies.

We’ll finish this first year by turning our attention to the future. Although the site is designed to provoke reflection, it is also explicitly political. One of its major goals is to reflect on solutions around which we can mobilise. Ranging from the utopian to the eminently practical, we’ll close the year with serious, political and innovative ideas about what we can do and how.

 This blog was originally posted on https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/neil-howard-genevieve-lebaron-cameron-thibos/introduction#0

Neil Howard is an academic and activist based at the European University Institute in Florence. He is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Institute’s Centre for Advanced Studies, where his research focuses on forced labour, trafficking and slavery, and on the work of the modern ‘abolitionist’ field.

Genevieve LeBaron is Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Politics at the University of Sheffield, UK. Her research focuses on the global growth and governance of forced labour in retail supply chains and the politics of corporate social responsibility. Read more of her writing on her website and follow her on twitter @GLeBaron.

Cameron Thibos is a research assistant at the Migration Policy Centre of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He is a specialist in migration and possesses regional expertise in Turkey and the Arab World. Cameron received his D.Phil in 2014 from the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford.

Note: this article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Crick Centre, or the Understanding Politics blog series. For more follow our twitter discussion #understandingpolitics.

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