Introducing our course on forced and precarious labour in the global economy

Written by: Joel Quirk All articles by: Joel Quirk

This is a free online open access course developed by members of the Beyond Trafficking and Slavery editorial team. It contains eight distinct modules and a series of interactive exercises. Taken together, these different components offer a comprehensive introduction to the global politics of forced and precarious labour. In addition, the different modules and exercises can also be used separately to explore specific issues. 

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Activists, academics, trade unions, governments and NGOs around the world are trying to understand and address forced labour, human trafficking, and modern slavery. New initiatives are constantly being tried out, however the frequently poor track record of past efforts in this area means that there is an urgent need for both additional research and further conversations regarding the best pathways forward. With labour exploitation and inequality on the rise, and debates over migration intensifying, high-level policy debates regarding forced labour, trafficking, and slavery can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

The BTS Short Course seeks to constructively influence these debates by bringing together and evaluating the best available research under one roof. It is designed to inform a new wave of scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners who are currently making their way through school systems and universities around the world. Our approach combines the rigour of academic scholarship, the clarity of journalism, and the immediacy of political advocacy in order to address the political, economic, and social root causes of exploitation, vulnerability, and forced labour around the world.

The BTS Short Course is the world's first open access ‘e-syllabus’ on forced labour, trafficking, and slavery. With 167 contributions from 150 top academics and practitioners, this 900-page, eight-volume set is packed with insights from the some of the best and most progressive scholarship and activism currently available. We have made this free for download so that not only practitioners and students in the global north can access this scholarship, but also readers working in organisations and institutions unable to pay for expensive academic journal and subscription services.

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1. Popular and political representations

Joel Quirk and Julia O'Connell Davidson (eds)

Much of what people think they know about human trafficking and ‘modern-day slavery’ is inaccurate, incomplete or unfounded. In order to help get their message out, political activists and government officials have repeatedly turned to a range of simplistic and misleading images, dubious ‘statistics’, and self-serving narratives. These narratives have had all kinds of negative consequences. Thanks to an often voyeuristic interest in commercial sexual abuse, much less interest has been directed towards ‘unsexy’ problems and practices. Thanks to the construction of migration as a problem and threat, policy responses have focused upon telling migrants to ‘stay at home’. Thanks to the popularity of ‘slavery as exception’, global patterns of systemic abuse, exploitation, and discrimination have been routinely dispatched to the margins of political conversations. Thanks to the depiction of trafficking victims as ‘exotic outsiders’ in need of rescue and salvation, there has been an uncritical return to some of the worst tropes of the colonial ‘civilising mission’. This must change.

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2. Forced labour in the global economy

Genevieve LeBaron and Neil Howard (eds)

There is a growing and sober awareness among international policymakers and within global civil society that human trafficking, slavery and forced labour are not anomalies perpetuated by a few ‘bad apple’ employers. Rather, such severe labour exploitation is an endemic feature of the contemporary global economy. This edited collection brings together some of the sharpest minds from the worlds of academia and activism to investigate and shed light on the root causes of this exploitation. Its essays analyse how business demand for forced labour manifests in certain industries, as well as how political and economic factors combine to generate a supply of workers vulnerable to abuse. Written in intelligent yet accessible prose, it represents a key resource for policy, activism and research.

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3. State and the law

Prabha Kotiswaran and Sam Okyere (eds)

The articles in this volume outline and critically interrogate the role of the state, national legislation and international conventions in shaping the understanding and construction of those conditions deemed to constitute modern forms of slavery. Our contributors further highlight the role of the state and national legislation in creating or allowing the varying forms of insecurities that necessitate entry into various precarious engagements. It is evident from these that the state plays a hugely significant role in the modern slavery discourse. It can be either a force for good or bad. Those who wish to see human rights and social justice realised at much higher level than that found in abolitionist discourse must recognise and be willing to engage politically with the state sponsored system of injustice.

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4. On history

Joel Quirk and Genevieve LeBaron (eds)

Campaigners and governments leading the fight to end ‘modern-day slavery’ selectively appeal to history to help justify their current activities. They uncritically praise Anglo-Saxon anti-slavery efforts, but have remarkably little to say about the larger history of enslavement, slave resistance, or the contemporary legacies of historical slave systems. Centuries of severe exploitation, racial subjugation, and violent abuse have too often been lost in the rush to celebrate the ‘moral triumph’ of abolition. The legal abolition of slavery was not a gift from great emancipators. Nor did it mark an end to the need for resistance. Former slaves were never compensated for their decades of toil and abuse, and their former masters made every effort to defend their privileges, contributing to global patterns of wealth, poverty, inequality, and discrimination that remain with us to this day.

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5. Migration and Mobility

Julia O'Connell Davidson and Neil Howard (eds)

Mobility is and always has been an essential part of humanity’s economic, social, cultural and political life. To be able to move freely is a good. Yet in our unjust world, it is also an unearned and unequally distributed privilege. This volume reflects on that privilege, and on the suffering that results when states restrict access to it. The articles included here will explode the spurious contemporary binary between ‘smuggling’ and ‘trafficking’, and will argue that anti-trafficking discourse hides more than it reveals. Most crucially, it hides how state restrictions on the freedom of movement are the true threat to human wellbeing. Open the borders!

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6. Race, Ethnicity and Belonging

Joel Quirk and Julia O'Connell Davidson (eds)

Slavery cannot be reduced to a chapter in history that is now closed, but must instead be regarded as a continuing and fundamental wound. As recent campaigns around ‘black lives matter’ and the prison industrial complex have further demonstrated, the idea of race—and racism as a system of domination—are intimately bound up with the history and legacies of transatlantic slavery. Despite their professed concern with slavery today, self-proclaimed ‘modern-day abolitionists’ have remarkably little to say about slavery and racism. They instead argue that we need to think about poverty, rather than race, since ‘modern slavery’ is colour blind. This book seeks to expose the profound limitations of this popular approach. Over the course of twenty chapters, some of the world's leading experts illustrate how and why racism and other forms of discrimination continue to shape contemporary patterns of marginalisation, exclusion, and government and corporate complicity.

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7. Childhood and Youth

Neil Howard and Sam Okyere (eds)

This volume, replete with contributions from world-renowned children’s rights academics and practitioners, argues that the dominant abolitionist discourse and its associated policy directives often impede the best interests and rights of the children they purport to ‘protect’ or ‘rescue’. This largely happens because the protections proposed are politically disengaged, fail to tackle the underlying causes of children’s insecurities, and often lack thorough understanding of the social, cultural, and economic circumstances surrounding young people’s work, mobility, and lives. The volume therefore advocates for an approach to securing child and youth welfare that is more nuanced, context specific, non-dogmatic, politically engaged, and takes young people’s own accounts seriously.

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8. Gender

Sam Okyere and Prabha Kotiswaran (eds)

Women and girls, 'new abolitionists' say, are disproportionately affected by trafficking because of their prevalence in domestic, care, and sex work. This volume questions the selective focus on these activities, which are alternately characterised as violence and work. It also interrogates still-unresolved questions regarding the status of such work, as well as the ways in which it is understood, valued, recognised, and regulated. Our contributors highlight how gendered inequalities within and between households, as well as within and between nations, anchor the structural violence of global capitalism. Their calls for action push back against the present tendency to dwell on the images of the passive, innocent, vulnerable female victim whose only option is to be 'saved' from bad men. Interventions based on such imagery too often result in women being 'rescued' into situations that do little to improve their circumstances and worse still perpetuate their experiences of domination. Instead, they argue for an emancipatory agenda that fully values the labour and agency of women, one which dismantles prejudice and constraint rather than saves them back into a deeply unequal system.

Contributors to the BTS Short Course

Alarmphone
Erica ALLINA
Bridget ANDERSON
Rutvica ANDRIJASEVIC
Sundari ANITHA
Ana Lucia ARAUJO
Helen BAILLOT
Christian BARRY
Tanja BASTIA
Harald BAUDER
Laya BEHBAHANI
Jeroen BEIRNAERT
Alice BELLAGAMBA
Amanda BERLAN
Rhian BEYNON
Gurminder BHAMBRA
Eileen BORIS
Michael BOURDILLON
Jo BOYDEN
Laura BRACE
Karen BRAVO
Brenda Oude BREUIL
André BROOME
Annie BUNTING
Joseph CARENS
Kristen E. CHENEY
Sealing CHENG
Hae CHOO 
Janie CHUANG 
Jason CONGDON
Sharon COWAN
Viviene CREE
Fraser CRICHTON
Gina CRIVELLO
Katie CRUZ
Hugh CUNNINGHAM
Monisha DAS GUPTA
Simanti DASGUPTA
Mike DOTTRIDGE
Roxanne Lynn DOTY
James ESSON
Janine EWEN
Sara R. FARRIS
Susan FERGUSON
Jane FREEDMAN
Bill FRELICK
Nicola FRITH
Judge FUDGE
Nicholas GENOVA
Global Network Of Sex Work Projects

Tanya GOLASH-BOZA
Thea GRUCHY
Lucrecia Rubio GUNDELL
Will GUY
Kristen HAN
Jason HART
Iman HASHIM
Dina HAYNES
Karin HEISSLER
Kate HODGSON
Liam HOGAN
John HOLMWOOD
Neil HOWARD
Roy HUIJSMANS
Ali Moussa IYE
Mark JOHNSON
Cecily JONES
Kerwin KAYE
Kamala KEMPADOO
Kyunghee KOOK
Prabha KOTISWARAN
Julia LAITE
Genevieve LEBARON
Carol LEIGH
Jens LERCHE
Alex LICHTENSTEIN
Roda MADZIVA
Andrea MAJOR
Jilian K. MARSH
Samuel MARTÍNEZ
Kate MCDONALD
E. Ann MCDOUGALL
Siobhán MCGRATH
David MCNALLY
Sally MERRY
Alessandra MEZZADRI
Fabiola MIERES
Alice M. MILLER
Charles W. MILLS
Sverre MOLLAND
Anne Elizabeth MOORE
Vanessa MUNRO
Zuzanna MUSKAT-GORKA
Jennifer MUSTO
William MYERS
Garrett NAGAISHI
Alf NILSEN
Luke NORONHA
Julia O’CONNELL DAVIDSON
Sam OKYERE

Treena ORCHARD
Ingrid PALMARY
Letizia PALUMBO 
P.J. PATTERSON 
Antoine PÉCOUD
Nicola PHILLIPS
Sine PLAMBECH 
Jessica R. PLILEY
Vanessa PUPAVAC
Joel QUIRK
Jayaseelan RAJ
Vibhuti RAMACHANDRAN
Ben RICHARDSON
Marlise RICHTER
Sébastien RIOUX
Kate ROBERTS
Caroline ROBINSON
Dylan RODRÍGUEZ
Ben ROGALY
Benedetta ROSSI
Srila ROY
Andreas RÜHMKORF
Julija SARDELIĆ
P. Khalil SAUCIER
Arthur SCARRITT
Nelly SCHMIDT
Alessandra SCIURBA
Benjamin SELWYN
Jared SEXTON
Svati SHAH
Nandita SHARMA
Elena SHIH
Robbie SHILLIAM
Stephanie J. SILVERMAN
Gretchen SODERLUND
James Brewer STEWART
Inka STOCK
Kendra STRAUSS
Judith SUNDERLAND
Marcus TAYLOR
Patrizia TESTAI
Teodora TODOROVA
Jo VEAREY
Lisa WADE
Ronald WEITZER
Karen WELLS
Lucy WILLIAMS
Rachel WILSHAW
Edlie WONG
Tryon P. WOODS

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