Shelling Brazil nuts in Peru. CIFOR/Flickr. CC (by-nc-nd)
In August 2017, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) co-organised a workshop in Bangkok to bring together academics, activists, and GAATW members from around the world to discuss issues of trafficking, forced labour and ‘modern slavery’.
In the course of this meeting I mentioned how regrettable it was that most of the articles produced by Beyond Trafficking and Slavery were available only in English. I had read many excellent pieces about complex issues there that I was sure would benefit the activists and policy makers in Latin America, if only Spanish versions were available. Their response was immediate and enthusiastic agreement. They shared my concern that their publishing takes place almost exclusively in English, and as it turns out had already been looking for opportunities to bring their core work into other languages. So we decided to work together to address this gap.
We selected 57 relevant and thought-provoking pieces from the BTS archive that we thought would be of particular interest to a Spanish-speaking and especially Latin American audience. We chose pieces that challenge hegemonic thinking and deepen our understanding of migration, work, exploitation and forced labour. These do what many mainstream commentaries do not. Rather than presenting simplistic analyses and suggesting easy solutions to very complex problems, these emphasise the underlying, intricate, and frequently uncomfortable factors that create the problems in the first place.
In a world of instant gratification and quick solutions, taking time for debate, dialogue and reflection can seem like a waste of time. Yet GAATW’s work on the issue of human trafficking for more than two decades tell us that no quick fixes are possible. The problems have their roots in patriarchy, economies that favour the richest 1%, labour market inequalities and unfair migration regimes. Some might say that those are all much bigger issues than what the anti-trafficking framework can possibly address. They would be right, but then the answer is to reconsider the approach rather than to push forward with more of the same. What is needed is a shift in our thinking that human trafficking and forced labour (or modern slavery, as some now call it) are aberrations that can be fixed with the right legal measures to ‘assist the victims’ and ‘punish the perpetrators’. Even as we continue to protect the rights of trafficked persons and hold states accountable to their obligations under anti-trafficking and other legislation, we urgently need to shift our focus to the systemic aspects of the problem.
The pieces published in openDemocracy do precisely this: they question the mainstream assumption that human trafficking is a problem that can be fixed by taking a few measures here and there, or by simply raising the penalties ever higher for those deemed to be ‘traffickers’. They draw our attention to the world of work, to labour rights and their violation, to policies that create inequality, poverty, displacement, distress migration, and most importantly to the resistance to such policies by workers organisations and social justice movements.
GAATW emerged out of the women’s movements and for more than twenty years has engaged with the issue of human trafficking by focusing on women’s rights to mobility and to work. As an International Feminist Alliance that believes in the power of social justice movements, it is imperative that we try to connect across national and linguistic borders with like-minded organisations and individuals and call for more grounded and nuanced understanding around trafficking and forced labour. This is the goal driving our current collaboration with openDemocracy and Translators without Borders, a non-profit organisation that envisions “a world where knowledge knows no language barriers.”
Spanish language is a strongly gendered language. The masculine forms are used as neutral, so masculine is used to express thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences. This underrepresents the voices and existence of women. We acknowledge that, and have closely worked with TWB to leverage the richness of the Spanish language to generate more inclusive ways of representation for women and men equally, each with relevance on her/his own.
Today we have the pleasure and honour of presenting a collection of 57 well-researched essays related to mobility, forced labour, labour exploitation and other issues closely linked to human trafficking. We are convinced that these pieces greatly contribute to a better understanding of the interlinkages among such issues and we are very happy to share them with the Spanish speaking community.
GAATW Programme Officer for Latin America