only search openDemocracy.net

BTS logo

Beyond popular representations of
trafficking and slavery

Over the last two decades, human trafficking has secured a remarkable level of both popular and official recognition, resulting in a state of affairs where most people now have at least a passing familiarity with this general topic. While ‘modern-day abolitionists’ routinely lament how little the general public knows about their cause, many campaigners working on other issues would count themselves lucky if they secured even a fraction of the publicity and investment that trafficking now receives. This recent success is not simply because trafficking is ‘more deserving’ or ‘more urgent’. It can instead be chiefly traced to the strong popular appeal of representations of human trafficking as an exceptional problem involving ‘innocent’ victims and rapacious villains, along with the numerous ways in which the issue of trafficking has helped to advance the strategic interests of governments seeking to control, discipline, and/or limit the mobility of certain populations. Read on...



Walk Free: measuring global slavery, or masking global hypocrisy?

The Walk Free Foundation claims to fight ‘modern slavery’ by measuring its extent, but is its index not just an exercise in political hypocrisy?

A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work

Journalists and researchers writing about sex workers doing long-lasting damage to their sources when they treat sex work as an area of exception to their journalistic ethics. 

The rhetoric and reality of ‘ending slavery in our lifetime’

‘Modern-day abolitionists’ frame their activities as part of a shared global struggle, but there is no single anti-slavery or anti-trafficking movement.

Feminism’s undeservedly bad reputation in anti-trafficking discourse

The strain of feminist thinking that promotes the rescue industry and the criminalisation of sex work springs from a small but vocal community of activists. Treating it as the voice of feminism silences competing voices, especially those outside of America and Europe.

Rescuing the market? Comparing Agustin’s ‘Sex at the margins’ and Bales’ ‘Understanding global slavery’

‘Sex at the margins’ and ‘Understanding global slavery’ are, on the surface, markedly different treatments of modern trafficking. However, their common undercurrent is their defence of the market and neoliberal agendas.

Shilling fantasy as reality: a review of ‘Trade’ and ‘Holly’

Movies glorifying the ‘rescue’ of sex workers by men posing as clients are erotic fantasies, not daringly realistic representations of modern sex-trafficking.

Domestic sex trafficking and the punitive side of anti-trafficking protection

Despite efforts to automatically label teen and youth sex workers as ‘victims’ of trafficking, and thereby prevent their prosecution, their often extensive interactions with the legal system continue to leave lasting marks.

From HIV to trafficking: shifting frames for sex work in India

The conflation of trafficking and prostitution in antitrafficking discourses not only frames all sex workers as victims in need of rescue, but elides the reasons many include sex work as part of their complex livelihood strategies.

How big is the trafficking problem? The mysteries of quantification

Wildly different numbers circulate about the number of trafficking victims and modern-day slaves. Victims are hard to count because they are hidden and definitions are ambiguous, yet efforts to quantify them shape what we know and do about trafficking.

RasTafari and reparation time

RasTafari reject the clear-cut distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ slavery put forward by ‘white abolitionism’, as this only gives absolution to formally slave-trading European publics where there should be none. They demand reparations because justice has not yet been served.

Modern slavery, child trafficking, and the rise of West African football academies

Ghanaian football academies have been accused of exploiting talent and promoting trafficking in search of profit, but the quest for social mobility in a time of economic liberalisation is what drives young footballers into the industry in the first place.

‘Irish slaves’: the convenient myth

The conflation of indentured servitude with chattel slavery in the ‘Irish slaves’ narrative whitewashes history in the service of Irish nationalist and white supremacist causes. Its resurgence in the wake of Ferguson reflects many Americans’ denial of the entrenched racism still prevalent in their society.

Residual causes: Wilberforce and forced labour

William Wilberforce is held up as a hero of the contemporary antislavery movement, but his legacy is tainted by his participation in government repression and his opposition to labour rights.

Introduction: moving beyond popular representations of trafficking and slavery

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery editors introduce their first themed issue, which explores how slavery and trafficking have been represented—by public officials, activists, and numerous others—together with the frequently troubling consequences that these popular representations have had upon policy and practice.

Immigration politics, slavery talk: the case for a class perspective

The UK Modern Slavery Bill, and UK politicians’ obsession with immigration, risk undermining political moves to greater solidarity among all those—migrant and non-migrant—experiencing abuse or unfreedom in their employment.

The white man’s burden revisited

The war on trafficking is a contemporary imperialist move that involves ‘the West’ saving ‘the rest’, appearing as a reconfigured version of the ‘white man’s burden.’  Modern-day slavery abolitionism, abolitionist feminism, and celebrity humanitarianism together make up this renewed imperialism.

Syndicate content