Beyond Slavery Debates & Roundtables

LATEST DEBATE

'Campaigns to raise public awareness of human trafficking may 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 DoSomething.org). 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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