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This week’s editor

Alex Sakalis, Editor

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy and co-edits the Can Europe Make It? page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Syndicate content The Rights Track
The Rights Track podcast gets the hard facts about the human rights challenges facing the world today and aims to get our thinking about human rights on the right track. The podcast is hosted by Professor Todd Landman, a human rights scholar and champion for the advancement of human rights understanding. In Series 1, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Todd interviews leading analysts at the forefront of the latest critical thinking on human rights. Each episode is an insightful, compelling and rigorous interview with academics engaged in systematic human rights research. In Series 2, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, The Rights Track turns its attention to human rights advocates and practitioners involved in the struggle for human rights to learn more about their work and the ways in which academic research is helping them. Although our interviews focus on often complex research, they have been developed with a much wider audience in mind and we want them to be accessible to anyone with an interest in human rights. The podcast is produced and edited by former BBC journalist and founder of Research Podcasts, Christine Garrington. If you would like to get involved with The Rights Track, we have a Facebook Group where you can keep up with the project, suggest ideas for guests and questions you'd like us to ask on your behalf. You can also follow us on Twitter.
Updated: 46 min 6 sec ago

In Episode 2 of Series 3 of The Rights Track we talk to Dr Alison Gardner, from the University of Nottingham who leads the Rights Lab’s ‘Slavery-Free Communities’ initiative. Through work with statutory, business and voluntary-sector partners, Alison’s research is developing policy and community-centred responses to modern slavery.  The research aims to make the city of Nottingham a slavery free city by 2030.


  • Alison explains how she and the Rights Lab team are working to define and explain what a slavery free community looks like
  • Much attention on the national picture, but to date very little has been done to understand what slavery looks like at a local level - this is a gap in policy because most work to prevent it takes place locally
  • Slavery free communities project is all about responding to the problem at a local level using available resources and better serving people to respond to and then prevent modern slavery


  • Discussion on how people may be ‘rescued’ from slavery but then go back into it because of a lack of support/services
  • Explanation of different stakeholders and help available and the challenges around co-ordination of services
  • Alison mentions detailed reports produced by Her Majesty’s Constabulary on police response to modern slavery. There are questions as to whether police are best placed to take a lead and the need on tackling modern slavery for more community and voluntary sector engagement 
  • The National Referral Mechanism is run by the Salvation Army and works to identify victims of trafficking or slavery - Alison points out that other NGOs working with the Salvation Army team to be national or regional rather than local
  • Potential role of the community at large to help stop and prevent the problem. Alison mentions the Clewer Initiative by the Church of England which is trying to use faith communities to try to detect and eradicate slavery


  • How the research is working to make Nottingham a slavery-free city - Alison outlines the basic tenets for this as outlined by slavery expert Kevin Bales in his book, The Slave Next Door 
  • Example of how front line staff in a business might support the detection and eradication of slavery households e.g meter readers who go into homes  
  • Alison explains that she and colleagues are also interested to know how you make an economy slavery free. This goes beyond existing supply chain legislation outlined in Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act and to think of their role as corporate citizens
  • Alison explains how the project is working with the Red Cross to look at better survivor support
  • Discussion around the need to strengthen the sharing of intelligence between agencies and how banks and hospitals might help.
  • Alison describes some of the data that might be useful in the mapping of slavery including Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) and anti social behaviour complaints.
  • The importance of front line training for e.g. nurses in Accident and Emergency but the challenges surrounding this. 
  • How behavioural economics or ’nudging’ could help to raise public consciousness of modern slavery so that it’s more obvious. 


  • Description and discussion of the recent Rooney case which led to the jailing of 11 people for modern slavery offences and the available sanctions
  • Role of the Modern Slavery Act in increased sentences 
  • How agencies and police forces are using the tactic of ‘disrupting’ patterns of crime as well as detailed investigations needed to secure a modern slavery conviction
  • Making Nottingham a slavery free city by 2030 is going to be challenging but people’s mind set in that time is achievable concludes Alison.

Other useful links 

In Episode 1 of Series 3 of The Rights Track we talk to Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, which, through its programme of trans disciplinary research is seeking to help end slavery by 2030.


  • Discussion around the recent renewed interest in modern slavery including a mention of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and Anti Slavery Day which was created by the Act. 
  • Zoe mentions the recent announcement that the agreed estimate of the number of slaves in the world now stands at 40.3 million according to the United Nations, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) the Walk Free Foundation and the IOM (International Organisation for Migration).
  • Target 8.7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to eradicate slavery by 2030
  • Bellagio Harvard Guidelines are used by The Rights Lab team to define modern slavery which comes from the Slavery Convention of 1926. Zoe explains what that means in practice.
  • Zoe stresses the importance of being clear on what slavery is in order to tackle it. She mentions a Rights Lab project looking at mental health which is looking at whether slavery survivors require interventions specific to what’s happened to them 


  • Zoe explains the work of the Rights Lab and how it will lead to a range of pilot activities and interventions which will be evaluated to see what works and how what does work will become a “freedom blueprint” a document that shows what needs to be done to eradicate slavery by 2030.. 
  • Todd asks about importance of recognising the ubiquity of slavery  including the problems in the UK and of using the latest techniques and methods to measure it accurately. Zoe agrees and goes on to mention Rights Lab work to develop a national slavery index as well as the existing global slavery index
  • Zoe describes how satellites are being used to try to “see slavery from space” and mentions research which showed hundreds of child slaves being used on a UNESCO World Heritage site and describes how satellites have been used to root out slave labour in India
  • Explanation of how researchers draw the link between satellite images and the use of people as slaves in a particular area and what they do with that information. 
  • Zoe stresses the importance and the value of working at in individual level with survivors of slavery to ensure their voices are heard and represented in the research

15.18- end

  • Discussion moves to the Anti Slavery Act, what it means for organisations and large businesses and how the Rights Lab is analysing how businesses are responding to the Act’s requirements for them to demonstrate that slaves are not used at any point in their supply chains.
  • Zoe mentions how some industries have agreed to move towards a ‘slavery-free’ guarantee for their products and Todd describes the potential benefits to a company of that in respect of having a trusted and respected brand.
  • Zoe describes a willingness on the part of many different industries to do something about the issue of modern slavery but are not sure what to do - she hopes Rights Lab research will provide them with a clearer picture of what they can do and the tools to do it.
  • Zoe outlines what she hopes the Freedom Blueprint will look like and some of the key considerations 

The Rights Track tackles some of the biggest human rights challenges facing us today. Find out more about who we are and what we do in their short video. And please share with anyone you think might be interested.

There are 40.3 million people enslaved around the world today, a shocking figure that, in recent times, has given birth to a renewed global commitment to end modern slavery.

Ending slavery by 2030 is now a key objective for the United Nations, which, by making it one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 8.7), has placed anti-slavery work as a top priority. Slavery is a new focus for the UK government, with the introduction of an act of Parliament, which Teresa May says “has delivered tough new penalties to put slave masters behind bars where they belong, with life sentences for the worst offenders”.

There can’t be many people out there who would disagree with the ambitions outlined here, but it’s essential we don’t just look for quick wins in the form of urgent liberations and prosecutions, but that we use robust, evidence-based strategies for whole scale abolition. In that way we get our thinking on the right track about the issue, understand the problem, and help create meaningful and effective solutions.

Achieving that and giving a clear voice to sound evidence on human rights has been the clearly defined ambition over the last two years of The Rights Track, a podcast whose principal ambition is to get the hard facts about the human rights challenges facing us today.

Today, on Anti-Slavery Day, the attention of The Rights Track podcast turns exclusively to the challenge of modern slavery, as it positions itself at the heart of The Rights Lab, the world’s first large-scale research programme helping to put an end to slavery once and for all.

Why a podcast?

The multi million pound project, based at the University of Nottingham, is already attracting attention and interest from key figures and organisations around the world including the UK’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland OBE. It’s getting high profile media coverage and continuing to spread the word as widely as possible will be key to achieving the end goal.

Digital and social media provide a host of opportunities to share the evidence being developed in ways that blur the distinction between academic outputs and the work of human rights practitioners and which fulfill an ever-increasing demand for rigorous evidence from human rights organisations.

The last few years, there has been a growing interest in the production and consumption of podcasts. In 2013, Apple announced it had over a billion podcast subscribers spread across 250,000 unique podcasts in more than 100 languages, and that more than 8 million episodes have been published in the iTunes Store to date.

In 2016 The Economist proclaimed the podcast had come of age and 2017 was declared the Year of the Podcast.

Audience research figures in the US estimate that 112 million people have listened to a podcast at least once. 67 million are listening to podcasts every month, 42 million every week. Those listening on a weekly basis listen, on average, to five different podcasts. In the UK, podcasts have also grown in popularity. In 2015, one in five people reported ever downloading a podcast. Although fewer than one in ten people listen every week, those who do consume an impressive 6.1 hours per week.

Discussion about whether podcasts can start to take hold in countries such as India, where slavery is a major problem, but where there is little or no culture of listening to talk radio is also beginning to emerge.

There has never been a better or more exciting time to be podcasting and to be using podcasts not just to share research findings but to really engage with everyone who’s interested in finding out the hard facts and understanding what’s needed for change and, in this case, to take individual and collective responsibility for ending the scourge that is modern day slavery.

Getting our thinking on the right track

From how many slaves exist in the world and where they are to why slavery exists and persists, what can work to end it and the difference that freedom makes – there is plenty for us to talk about on The Rights Track.

We’ll be talking to project leads and external partners from the Rights Lab on their ongoing work that ranges from making UK cities slavery free to observing slavery from space using the latest cutting edge satellite technologies, as well as work on how to assist survivors of slavery.

The research and our podcast are all underpinned by something described “rigorous morality”; a fusion of rigorous empirical research and advocacy: a values- based, problem-oriented approach which means that we do more than just talk about the problems of modern slavery: we’ll give a voice to the evidence and the solutions, change the conversation and, in doing so, help to set society on a course to end it.

The fact that podcasting can help capture these stories, ideas and voices in such a compelling way is why we believe it is key to the research programme.

Slavery stands on the edge of its own extinction and this incredible research programme will show how it can be eradicated for good. The Rights Lab will bring research rigour to a global community that has awoken to the historic possibility of ending slavery in our lifetime.

Can a podcast help with that? We think it can! 

Episode 1 will be published November 9!

  • Follow our progress by subscribing to the podcast in iTunes. Click on the Apple Podcasts icon above
  • Tell us what you think and get more involved with the project by becoming a member of our Facebook Group
  • Join in the Conversation on Twitter @RightsTrack

In Episode 12 of Series 2 of The Rights Track we talk radical right groups in the United States with Heidi Beirich, Intelligence Project Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.


  • Heidi starts by explaining the work of the SPLC since its formation in the 1970s when it tried to make the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act “a reality”
  • She mentions a civil suit the SPLC brought against the United Klans of America in the 80s which made the organisation realise the lack of information that existed about hate groups and how and where they operated. 
  • Heidi describes the sorts of groups that are listed including Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, anti-semitic and other racist/hate group. She provides a definition of a “hate group” and gives examples of the sorts of groups on SPLC’s hate group list
  • The SPLC publishes 2 lists - Active Hate Groups and Anti Government Groups
  • Todd asks specifically about the Christian Identity movement and Heidi explains their ideology
  • Some people in the US argue (especially online) that there is no difference between the Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter - Heidi explains the difference
  • Heidi mentions the SPLC’s Hate Map and the hate crime data the organisation collects and how the two sets of data differ


  • The discussion moves on to the difference between free speech and hate speech in the US. Heidi explains the First Amendment Right, which protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. She explains how that plays out in reality in respect of hate speech within and, she argues, as a result of the Constitution
  • Todd asks Heidi for her thoughts on the events in Charlottesville in August 2017

17.20- end

  • How SPLA tracks and collects hate speech data on social media and how SPLC can use that data to track radical right movements and their activities
  • Heidi mentions the group and a recent conference it held. She goes on to talk about some of the positive developments by organisations such as Facebook post Charlottesville to take down hate speech material from its site.
  • Where SPLC’s support is coming from including the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Heidi reflects on her concerns and hopes for the future. She  says she is heartened by recent resolutions among politicians condemning white nationalists but concerned by what the transition towards a US where white people are no longer in the majority might signal in terms of hate groups and hate speech remaining at the fore.

In Episode 11 of Series 2 of The Rights Track Todd talks to the internationally acclaimed environmentalist photographer Garth Lenz about the idea of crimes against the environment and how his photography helps to make a case for environmental rights.

  • Garth talks about the power of photography in helping to change the way people think e.g. about injustice or war and how it can motivate people to demand change
  • He talks about why Canada where he is based is such a powerful example of “industrial sacrifice” because the sites are so vast and why photography is such a good medium for communicating that to a broad audience
  • Todd asks Garth about how he conveys the idea of vastness such as in his photos of industrialised landscape such as that at the Tar Sands Development 
  • Garth talks about finding a point of reference such as equating the size of a single truck being used with the size of a family home and how doing this helps link what’s happening with the environment and human rights
  • Todd outlines the tensions around the human rights arguments i.e the right to economic development and prosperity and the need to explore sustainable development and also the more philosophical debates around where the environment sits in debates around human rights 
  • Garth argues there is not a major tension between the needs of humans and the needs of the environment - he believes they both need a healthy ecosystem 
  • Garth talks about a recent project around Houston and Port Arthur in the US where he says there are huge Fortune 500 companies juxtaposed with some of the highest rates of unemployment, poverty and poor health     
  • Garth mentions recent work he has been undertaking for the Environmental Integrity Project in Pennsylvania looking at the human cost of fossil fuel development  particularly where people have signed over rights to  companies to extract fuels and then find, for example, that their water supply is contaminated  - he feels that nothing changes until the privileged and rich are affected in the same way.
  • Todd picks up and describes the so-called “fracking process” which is what Garth has been talking about and Garth goes onto talk about some of the knock ons success as earthquakes in places where they don’t normally happen. 
  • Garth goes on to mention recent wildfires in British Columbia and their impact on communities and individuals including his own asthmatic daughter - he says he could not imagine as a child a point in time when people would be scared to go out and breathe the air or drink the water without wanting to take action as a society
  • Discussion around some of the policy responses to environmental issues such as recent moves in France and the UK to ban the production of petrol and diesel vehicles and the shift towards hybrid vehicles 
  • Todd raises the question of where the power will come from to fuel electric cars - he mentions plans to develop nuclear power in the UK
  • Garth believes the moves in Europe are encouraging and agrees the fuel will need to come from a wind range of sources - he says the US and even Canada are far behind
  • He argues that plugging electric vehicles into coal powered stations for recharging is better for the environment than driving petrol or diesel fuelled cars because of the major reduction in greenhouse gases even though he acknowledged it’s not ideal
16.10 -end 
  • Discussion about President Trump’s preference not to be a signatory to the Paris Climate Change agreement and what motivates Garth to keep up his work
  • Garth points out that at a federal, state and local level people are saying that Washington may have a view but they will continue to make their own decisions and moves regardless and that this makes him feel more optimistic going forward 
  • Todd urges Rights Track listeners to watch Garth’s emotional and gripping Ted Talk