Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Trafficking and slavery interventions under the microscope

BTS editors introduce the ‘case studies and critique’ strand of our new project ‘possible futures’, which will open a window onto the ‘better practices’ found in the field today.

Prabha Kotiswaran Sam Okyere
25 January 2016
shutterstock_317283350.jpg for Shutterstock. All rights reserved.

Over the last twelve months, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery has offered up dozens of empirically- and theoretically-derived critical reflections on forced labour, prostitution, child labour, trafficking, and other conditions discursively constructed as modern forms of slavery. Many of these contributions have also lifted the veil on the sensationalism, misrepresentation, and superficial analysis that dominate mainstream perspectives. In doing so, they have demonstrated the prime risk of labelling virtually all forms of human suffering today as ‘modern slavery’: that the obfuscation of the complexities surrounding the phenomena and the creation of inadequate solutions either fail to address the problem or harm those identified as victims.  

Our agenda has not simply been to produce or elicit counter-hegemonic narratives, but to do so constructively. Wary of the ‘ivory tower’ critique so often slung against academic interventions of this kind, many authors have sought to highlight the practical lessons of their research. They have done so with the hope of providing practitioners, politicians, and activists with ‘actionable’ alternatives to their current strategies, ones that are more sensitive to the rights and wishes of the ‘victims’.

The well, thankfully, has not yet run dry. Between now and April, our ‘case studies and critique’ section will publish a steady stream of articles that suggest ‘better’ responses than those currently dominating the ‘modern slavery’ landscape. We need to stress that none of what follows should be read as BTS’ idea of ‘the way forward’. We don’t believe in silver bullets. Indeed, the prescriptive, generalised, ‘one-size-fits-all’ positions of many policy makers and activists have been one of our most consistent objects of critique. Each case needs to be approached on its own basis.

What we propose, therefore, is a set of case studies drawn from research evidence, advocacy campaigns, and policy implementation that offer situated insights into ‘better practice’. These are not so much how-to guides as demonstrations of all that is out there apart from the standard fare. Additionally, in keeping with the critical stance for which BTS is recognised, some of the articles published under this strand will critique existing policies, interventions or ‘solutions’ that are actually inimical to the interests of those they purport to benefit.

In sum, the case studies and critiques strand brings together examples of proposals, interventions, or actions that we think deserve attention, as well as those which ought to be jettisoned due to their deleterious human rights outcomes. After all, arguing strongly for the cessation of harmful policies is merely another way of suggesting how things can be done more positively in the future.

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