Print Friendly and PDF
only search

This week’s front page editor


Julian Richards is openDemocracy’s managing editor.

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. Series 3 sees our podcast joining the fight to end modern day slavery by 2030. In partnership with the University of Nottingham's Right's Lab research project, we talk with researchers who are providing hard evidence about the scale of the problem and by recommending strategies that can help consign slavery to the history books. 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.
Updated: 41 min 12 sec ago

In Episode 7 we talk about the perpetrators of slavery with Austin Choi - Fitzpatrick, author of What Slave Holders Think - How Contemporary perpetrators rationalise what they do.

00.00 - 06.06 

  • Discussion of what drew Austin to research the perpetrators of slavery: not enough known about them and their relationship with the people they hold in slavery. Also important to consider the role perpetrators play both in the enslaving and freeing of people
  • Explanation of bonded labour in India, a practice where perpetrators are violating human rights but not local norms and where they don't see themselves as criminals, so the practice is in plain view
  • Todd refers to the well known Star Trek Prime Imperative (Directive) to suggest a possible metaphor for how how Austin approached interviewing the perpetrators of slavery
  • Austin says going in and labelling people immediately would have conversations to an abrupt end and explains how he took account of people’s own experiences and lives in his approach.
  • Using open ended questions about local issues: the climate, government, local law enforcement and relationships with local labour and advocacy groups in the community, helped him develop a picture of the nature of modern slavery
  • He avoided the use of abolitionist language and tried to learn more about how perpetrators see themselves 

06.06 - 10.30 

  • Todd asks how Austin came to be accepted by the local community and built trust and rapport
  • Austin explains how he discounted snowball sampling as a method and instead used a Leapfrog method - when he found people he believed to be perpetrators he got them to refer him on to others who were also involved with bonded labour
  • It was a challenge to work out if perpetrators were telling the truth Austin did by triangulating what he was told ‘on the fly’ to see which bits added up and which bits didn’t.
  • Austin describes how he grew his beard because that seemed to confer additional spiritual status within the community and shared his own family experiences as a grandson of a farmer to establish his credibility
  • Todd summarises this as a rapport and empathy approach 

10.30 – 17.20 

  • Austin explains he interviewed 40 perpetrators and 20 victims/survivors for his research and describes the main insights he gained were around
  1. A sense of lost relationships with their workers who they felt earlier had been members of their family
  2. A sense of lost respect of their workers that they had earned from relationships.                                                                Austin says it may have been a façade but found the choice of language was really interesting and what he was least prepared for
  • Todd then asks Austin to say more about the relationship between perpetrator and slave
  • He says that commonly the exploiter would be on the edge of the community or circle not separate from it (as for example a trafficker) and that then raises the issue of how people live together post emancipation
  • Todd makes a comparison with community courts called Gacaca in Rwanda which leads on to a discussion about issues surrounding reconciliation within communities, and what restorative justice looks like
  • Todd then asks if, once uncovered, perpetrators stop the practice
  • Austin says in some cases that depends on access to capital and cash either, to go into legitimate business or to use their status and connections with the police as a credible threat to the labour force and to carry on as before 

17.20 - 19.60 

  • Discussion around what motivated the perpetrators and how they rationalised what they were doing
  • Austin explains in many cases perpetrators had inherited the situation of control but were asking themselves why they would continue given the negative political impacts and whether they wanted to be seen as perpetrators of slavery - there is also a suggestion that for many there are few alternatives to the status quo
  • Austin then makes the point that there is not enough known about what it takes to come out of abusive relationships not least of all for the perpetrators – he adds it needs both victims and perpetrators to work together to reach some form of attributive justice
  • Todd references the work of Bill Simmons discussed in Series 1 of The Rights Track and his upcoming book Joyful Human Rights which raises the idea that human rights abuse victims also have a normal side to the lives they lead and comments that this is also the case for perpetrators or abusers 

19.60 - 24.52 

  • Todd wonders if Austin's research in India is applicable elsewhere
  • Austin suggests that it applies where labour exploitation is embedded in cultural practices e.g. India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh
  • In broader terms he says he is dealing with violation of human rights but not social norms and in stepping outside of the slavery context he recognises that social change means that current behaviours can become unacceptable - one question he raises is how we deal with behaviour that was once acceptable, and no longer is
  • He makes a final point about the way we all find ways to excuse exploitive
  • Todd highlights how our view of Human Rights principles is evolving, and how human rights terminology isn’t necessarily recognised by local communities
  • He closes by focussing on Gramsci’s notion of false consciousness in which people didn’t know they were being exploited or accepted they were perpetrators


Further links and resources




In Episode 6 we talk modern slavery statistics and the challenges that face those trying to get to the hard facts about the issue. Our guest is  Sir Bernard Silverman, a mathematician and statistician who produced the first scientific estimate of the number of modern slaves in the United Kingdom.

 00.00 - 04.10 

  • Todd begins asking Sir Bernard about the difficulties in researching "hard to find populations” such as the victims of modern slavery, and in particular the issues of sampling and bias when drawing inferences from such difficult to obtain data.
  • Sir Bernard agrees and suggests that the only way to avoid errors is to construct mathematical models and construct a sampling methodology to describe the data. He explains that classical sampling methods are not applicable to the victims of modern slavery
  • Todd points out that the only way to identify victims is if they come forward to the National Crime Agency and/or other referral mechanisms, to create different " convenience samples"

 04.10 - 08.20 

  • Sir Bernard mentions similar work carried out in Kosovo on the difficulties of estimating the number of deaths as a result of the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia
  • Todd suggests that in this and similar instances the focus was on the number of dead bodies and was relatively easy to count whereas modern slavery is much harder to define and thus counting the numbers involved is much more complex
  • Sir Bernard agrees adding that counting the number of dead has a lower margin for error - with no clear definition of modern slavery, there will be greater uncertainty about arriving at a total number of modern slaves

 08.20 - 12.41 

  • Todd asks Bernard about the estimate of modern slavery victims in the UK and how it compares with the rest of the world
  • Bernard answers that the quoted numbers (10,000 - 13,000) for the UK are probably under-estimation but says the number is large and should concentrate the minds of politicians, the police and the public
  • World wide the UK ranks towards the bottom in terms of the risk factors that lead people into slavery
  • Todd develops this theme by comparing slavery estimates for India and Luxembourg in terms of absolute numbers and the percentage of the population, in particular the estimate of 100 for Luxembourg, a number which may not quite capture the fact that .work-xbased commuting may actual double the population for Luxembourg and by inference the number of possible slaves.
  • Sir Bernard adds the caveat that it is an estimate based on comparisons with neighbouring countries, not a fully accurate number
  • Sir Bernard argues that the recent legislation makes the UK increasingly hostile to modern slavery in comparison with other countries

 12.41 - 15.26 

  • Todd turns to discuss government spending and asks what level of priority is given to modern slavery in comparison with other forms of crime
  • In Sir Bernard's view the focus is less about budget allocations and more about agenda setting for the police and awareness raising for the public, NGO's and academics

 15.26- 18.59

  • Todd asks how can proxy measures be use to indicate the prevalence of slavery
  • Sir Bernard lists the following possibilities:
  1. Suspect bank accounts
  2. Very cheap services e.g. low cost car washes
  3. Individuals offering the same service in different locations
  4. Suspicious financial transactions
  5. Suspicious patterns of personal behaviour
  • The development of reliable proxy measures is in its infancy - extrapolating from proxy measures to reliable numerical estimates is not easy
  • Looking for change in reliable proxy measures may well be better indicators of the effectiveness of anti-slavery measures

 18.59 - end

  • Todd asks whether there is away that Big Data techniques can be used to enhance proxy measures
  • In reply Sir Bernard suggests undertaking textual analysis on company policy statements on supply chains. Larger textual analysis would need to focus on specific sectors and investigators will need to know in advance what they are looking for.

Further resources and information