Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

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

Joel Quirk
1 June 2018, 12.00am
Adriano Giulio Giovanelli. All rights reserved

The global economy runs on forced and precarious labour. This course explores how this economic engine operates and how worker and migrant rights can be strengthened.

Drawing upon numerous articles published by Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, the course explores how vulnerable workers – whose conditions are frequently compared to slavery – are exploited in order to generate goods and services further up the economic chain. It examines how different kinds of labour exploitation have been classified – as modern slavery, human trafficking, or forced labour – and considers some of the effects of using the language of slavery to describe various abuses which are happening today.

The main focus of the course is the ways in which global economic systems and political interests both manufacture and protect different forms of vulnerable, precarious, and forced labour. Drawing upon examples from across the world, the course specifically focuses on labour in three major categories: supply chain work, migrant work, and sex work. It also considers the limitations of popular approaches and ‘solutions’ focusing upon the politics of rescue, and contrast these popular approaches with alternatives based upon models of worker rights, collective organising, and decent work.

This course should appeal to anyone interested in both better understanding and effectively challenging global systems of exploitation, vulnerability, and abuse. It seeks to demonstrate that forced and precarious labour cannot be reduced to the grit in the gears of otherwise legitimate and smoothly functioning global economic and migration systems. The primary goal must be to instead identify and challenge systems of exploitation, rather than targeting ‘bad apple’ employers or ‘deviant’ criminals.
As you click through the various pages for the course, you will encounter both course content and interactive exercises which address the following questions:

  • How forced and precarious labour feature in different sectors of the global economy, such as supply chains and migrant labour.

  • How and why labour exploitation has been classified using different categories, such as slavery, trafficking, and forced labour, and what effects these classifications have for understanding key issues.

  • How political activists have organised in order to combat specific abuses; and what the costs, benefits, and challenges of different strategies look like.

  • How governments, corporations, and civil society organisations have attempted to combat specific abuses, and the kinds of effects their efforts have had to date.

Each module within the larger course is organised in a similar way, with a small number of readings which speak to the main themes of individual weeks, accompanied by short instructional videos. In addition to these resources you should also find a series of interactive online exercises. One set of interactive exercises asks you to evaluate and rank different ‘root causes’ for labour exploitation. The second set of interactive exercises asks you to evaluate a range of potential solutions and strategies for effectively challenging systems of labour exploitation in terms of both likely efficacy and political difficulty.

The course was originally released on the edX.org platform in 2018, where it has now been archived. As of 2021 it is available on openDemocracy.

Course lecturers

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