Beyond Slavery Debates & Roundtables

After the 'migration crisis': how Europe works to keep Africans in Africa

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Migration from Africa to Europe has, since the long summer of migration in 2015, been at the top of the European political agenda. As right-wing parties have gained at the ballot box through their anti-migration rhetoric, the priority for most policymakers has been to look tough and – above all – to prevent such an experience from ever happening again.

To this end, the European Union and individual EU member states have devoted large amounts of resources to trying to keep people in Africa. One usually speaks of carrots and sticks, but given the sheer scale and variety of interventions it might be more appropriate to speak of bushels of the former and bundles of the latter. As this feature demonstrates in great detail, an awful lot has been going on.

Being based in Europe, we are generally only exposed to European accounts of what is happening and why it is happening when it comes to migration. In order to break through our own filter bubble, we set out to explore the question of migration from a more African perspective. This feature is the result of that endeavour.

What projects have been happening, and how have they affected African communities? How have African states balanced European demands with domestic pressures and priorities? How do African policymakers and citizens even understand migration? What are their own migration agendas? And how can Europe and Africa reset the conversation on migration to the benefit of all? These are just a few of the many questions we asked our seventeen participants, and time and time again their answers surprised us and brought nuance to what is all too often a one-sided conversation. Producing this feature has been an enormous learning experience for us, and we warmly encourage you to explore its many pages in the hope that it will be for you too. Read on...

How can advocates effectively speak about and argue for decriminalised sex work?

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What is the best strategy for ensuring that people who sell sex are protected? Should the state ban it entirely? Should it allow the sale of sex but not its purchase, as the increasingly widespread ‘Nordic’ model does? Or decriminalise it altogether? These questions are endlessly repeated, but for sex workers themselves the debate is long over: only decriminalisation increases their safety. We believe them, so this is where our new series begins.

We invited sex workers and their allies around the world to share their experiences advocating for decriminalisation on openDemocracy. We also sought out stories from organisations that used to oppose decriminalising sex work but now support it. Our goal was to find out what works, what doesn’t and how it can be done better.

The response exceeds all our expectations. Sex workers and migrants have been organising against exploitation and abuse for a very long time, so any conversation about different strategies should prioritise their expertise and experience.

Universal basic income: a way through the storm?

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Exploited workers – including those labelled by authorities as ‘victims of trafficking’ or as ‘modern slaves’ – typically consent to the work that they do, however abusive or unpleasant, because it represents the best or only option they have of making the money they need. This has been shown in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America.

This begs the question: if we really want to end ‘modern slavery’, and indeed if we’re serious about protecting people from all forms of exploitation, then why not ensure that everyone always has a minimum amount of money in their pocket such that they can say no to bad work?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. Social protection scholars have long made the case that we should ‘just give money to the poor’ if we want to help them, and that doing so is cheaper, more effective and more humane than traditional policies which are costly, complicated and often regressively conditional. Basic income advocates say the same things. A basic income is defined as a regular cash payment delivered unconditionally and individually to all people. Think of it as a small salary just for being human. It won’t make you rich but it should keep you alive in a world where you need money to survive.

In order to explore this question, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery has brought together a series of experts, scholars and activists to reflect on the question: What role could basic income play in the fight against unfree labour?

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'Campaigns to raise public awareness of human trafficking have flaws, but their overall impact is positive. YES OR NO?'

Elena Shih and Joel Quirk (eds)

Campaigners, activists and government officials spend much of their time and energy crafting messages that are designed to win specific audiences over to their cause. The main goal behind these messages is to ‘raise awareness’ of specific problems or issues, and to offer target audiences with potential solutions or remedies.

Human trafficking awareness campaigns intend to inspire both individuals and institutions to ‘do something’ (there is even a campaign called While taking action against injustice is undoubtedly a laudable impulse, the ‘something’ in question is by no means as straightforward as it might first appear. Thus while awareness campaigns may well reach large audiences, are they teaching their audiences the right things?

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Related Feature: Can awareness-raising prevent exploitation?

Ending forced labor and modern slavery in global supply chains requires binding legislation, rather than corporate self-regulation and self-disclosure. Yes or No?

Genevieve LeBaron and Joel Quirk (eds)

We sometimes speak about the global economy as if it were a force of nature, or as a patient with uncertain health. It can be tamed or unleashed, wounded or healed. The specific language used can reveal a great deal about how people think about economic processes and government policies. As any economist can tell you, the main bone of contention is often the role of regulation. Why and when is regulation required, and what form should it ideally take? Over the last three decades, this enduring debate has taken on new features, since so much of what now gets consumed comes from factories and workers in other countries. Instead of making goods in-house, corporations now subcontract many aspects of their production processes to partners in developing countries with lower wages, less regulation, and fewer protections for workers.

There is no question that global supply chains are good for corporations, but do they work for workers? As you might expect, this question can be answered in many ways, with different responses covering the full spectrum of yes, no, maybe, and sometimes. In a world where jobs are scarce there will always be claims that nearly any job is better than no job at all. Yet this begs an obvious question regarding the types of jobs that have been created. Major corporations use their market power to drive down costs by securing favourable contracts with suppliers, since their suppliers frequently have limited scope to negotiate better returns, better conditions, or less demanding production cycles. This combination of low prices and high expectations means that companies further down the supply chain frequently experience sustained pressure to depress pay and conditions, to the point where forced labour can appear as an unavoidable business strategy.

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