Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Beyond Slavery so far…

At the end of 2014, our editorial partnership Beyond Trafficking and Slavery looks back at the ground covered and previews all that is still to come.

Neil Howard
22 December 2014
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Londoners protest against internal and external borders in 2010. Demotix/P. Nutt. All Rights Reserved.

Since we launched Beyond Trafficking and Slavery in mid-October we’ve covered a lot of ground, publishing 25 pieces in just 11 weeks to explore topics ranging from the high politics of protection to the intricacies of measurement.

We’ve had theoretical reflections questioning the inherent racism of contemporary anti-slavery discourse, tracing the historical parallels of ‘modern-day’ slavery, imploring actors to reimagine the meaning of freedom, and to reject the notion that exploitation is simply a factor of culture or human nature.

We’ve had contributions looking at specific country case-studies—from Singapore, Bolivia and the UK—while others have been thematically-focussed on supply chains, the role of the state, and the shifting complexities of international legal frameworks.

Three major trends have run through our articles. One is a real frustration at the lack of good quality data on who gets exploited, how and why. Another is concern at how easily bad ‘data’ is broadcast and exploited by politicians and the media, with negative social or political consequences. The third and most important is anger. Despite the sensationalised political and media attention, or perhaps even because of it, anti-slavery strategy fails to explore the genuine, radical political changes that are necessary to protect all workers from exploitation – and not just those labelled as slaves.

Over the next nine months, there will be plenty more such anger, a lot more analysis and explanation, and some serious, focussed proposals for the kinds of policies that really could take us beyond trafficking and slavery. BTS is a unique educational and advocacy project. Our goal is to take you on a comprehensive journey through the best, most cutting-edge thinking on the politics of exploitation and protection.

We are an alternative, open-access, digital educational programme, and by the end of the coming year you will have a public syllabus covering the ‘hows, whys, wherefores and what can we dos’ of contemporary critical thinking around serious exploitation and domination.

Beginning in January, our editors will commission a set of 12-14 articles each month that will focus on a distinct, relevant 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, 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 our first year in September, by turning our attention towards the future. This, as we have said, is an advocacy as well as an educational project. Although one goal is to provoke reflection, another is to engage with politics and to reflect on solutions around which we can mobilise, ranging from the utopian to the eminently practical.

We look forward to seeing you throughout 2015!

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