DEBATE: What has philanthrocapitalism done to anti-trafficking movement?
Philanthrocapitalists stand in the way of direct aid, so we have no time for them
Sex workers and other marginalised communities are in desperate need of rights and direct cash assistance, no...
Private giving for anti-trafficking hides government inaction
Philanthropy in anti-trafficking has brought about important change. But it has also allowed governments to avoid...
The catalysing power of philanthropy in anti-trafficking
A few large donors forced a step change in anti-trafficking work when they began to collaborate a few years ago. Now...
The blindness of using venture capital to fight human trafficking
Venture capital relies on market-based solutions to maximise short-term gains. That is no way to address worker exploitation.
The impact of COVID-19 on working children in Buenos Aires
The pandemic has made work for many children more important that ever.
Published in:Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: InterviewHow we got here: the story of the Palermo protocol on trafficking
'Human trafficking' didn't have to mean what it now does. This is the story of how it got its definition, as told by...
Labour migrants’ struggle to subvert anti-trafficking interventions in Nepal
For the targets of anti-trafficking measures, they are just one more obstacle to overcome.
Listening to working children is a legal obligation – not a choice
If the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour truly seeks to help working children then policymakers...
Open letter: change course on the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour
Child labour will not end in 2021, and trying to eliminate it will only endanger working children further. Over 100...
The victims of ‘unknown exploitation’ hiding within the UK National Referral Mechanism
Potential victims of human trafficking are falling through the cracks of the UK’s National Referral Mechanism. The...
Wage theft: the missing middle in exploitation of migrant workers
Ensuring that migrants are paid properly for their work would do more good than anti-trafficking ever will.
PALERMO PROTOCOL 20TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
Anniversaries are a good time to take stock. Over the course of 2020 there were many events focusing upon the Palermo protocol and its legacies, but these all too often took the form of uncritical celebrations rather than meaningful reflections. In this double feature we dive deeper. And when reflecting upon the legacies and effects of the Palermo protocol, there are two vital questions that stand out.
What is exploitation?
Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks
Alf Gunvald Nilsen
This discussion was financially supported by Humanity United.
Our first question focuses upon the political, legal, and ethical challenges of drawing moral and legal lines between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ forms of exploitation under capitalism, a system in which profit is the primary goal. What ‘counts’ as exploitation in contexts where the deck is heavily stacked in favour of employers and against workers? If someone consents to work for poor wages and in bad conditions, is that the end of the matter? Should only the most extreme cases of abuse concern us? Or do we need to worry about the vulnerability inherent to all market life?
The trafficking protocol does a poor job of addressing this key question. Although it establishes exploitation as integral to the definition of trafficking, it doesn’t define exploitation itself, nor does it clarify where this begins or ends. We believe that this uncertainty contributes to all kinds of problems. There is a widespread tendency among policymakers and activists to approach exploitation in much the same way as pornography, where ‘you know it when you see it’. This results in a situation where the defining features of exploitation are more often assumed than analysed.
With this in mind, the goal of the first half of our double feature is to sharpen our understanding of this core concept. We have invited leading experts on law, philosophy, economics, and sociology to reflect on what exploitation looks like, how it has been and should be defined, what kinds of political and legal effects follow from different definitions, and what kind of role it should play within political activism and mobilisation. We do not expect to resolve this question once and for all, but asking it publicly and critically is essential.
Are we better off on the inside?
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro
International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
Kathryn Babineau & Jennifer Bair
This discussion was financially supported by Humanity United.
Our second question focuses upon political tactics and strategic calculations. The main goal of this half of our feature is to bring to light the kinds of behind-the-scenes calculations which have influenced how, why, and whether different campaigners and organisations have taken up the cause of combating human trafficking and, now, ‘modern slavery’. We hope to capture many of the issues at stake here by focusing upon one key question: are we better off on the inside? This is a question which frequently comes up in private conversations, but rarely gets discussed in public.
Most experts with first-hand experience of anti-trafficking or anti-slavery interventions and campaigns are well aware that they can be ineffective or compromised by other agendas. However, this recognition tends to be caveated with the claim that it is better to remain on the inside, despite the problems, to be better positioned to try and move things forward more productively over time. This can sometimes result in a degree of self-censorship, since speaking out too loudly or too often can mean risking your access, influence, and funding. Rejecting or resisting dominant models can lead to being left on the outside looking in, which can make it more difficult to have your voice heard or to exert influence over key decisions.
Many of the people and organisations engaged in anti-trafficking or anti-slavery work at least partially justify their approach by appealing to these kinds of arguments. However, there remains a widespread reluctance to talk openly about the trade-offs that come with this decision, so there hasn’t been enough analysis of whether their underlying assumptions stand up to scrutiny.
Yet it is also by no means clear that alternative approaches would be more effective. Critics frequently propose policies that would undoubtedly have beneficial effects, such as separating immigration enforcement from labour inspections, but these also tend to be a tall order politically. Is it better to work towards modest gains that might actually be achievable in the short term, or to embrace more radical positions that are harder to realise?
In a sense, this question is an echo of the old reform or revolution debate. In this scenario, the reformists argue that they’ve never before had such a powerful rallying call as trafficking or modern slavery, and its value as a mobilisation tool outweighs its drawbacks. They also maintain that small and incremental improvements are all that is achievable, and that something is better than nothing.
Advocates for more revolutionary approaches don’t entirely disagree. They understand that shouting slogans from the sidelines that powerful people will ignore will not have immediate (or any) positive impact. But they are much less confident that staying on the inside is beneficial. This is because they regard trafficking as a political tool which ends up legitimating the abuse of migrants, punishing sex workers, and deflecting longstanding efforts to improve the rights and protections afforded to precarious workers. Our current global order is deeply unjust and unequal. How should we respond, they ask, if anti-trafficking and anti-slavery campaigns play a role in helping it to stay that way?
We do not expect to come to a final answer, since this question is heavily influenced by context and position. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the only way to improve current tactics and strategies is to talk about them in depth, and that frank conversation is exactly what we intend to have.
Listen to the experts! Domestic workers fight tied visas in the United Kingdom
Media portrayals of domestic workers commonly feature extreme examples of abuse, obscuring the distinctive expertise...
Trying to stay afloat without drowning: migrants reopen route to the Spanish Canary Islands
As COVID-19 measures close borders within Africa, migrants find new ways to stay mobile.
Long read: How the Nordic model in France changed everything for sex workers
In 2019, 10 sex workers were killed in France in the span of six months. Critics say that the Nordic model and its...
After the 'migration crisis'
How Europe works to keep Africans in Africa
Edited by Liliane Mouan, Simon Massey and Cameron Thibos
Migration from Africa to Europe has, since the long summer of migration in 2015, been at the top of the European political agenda. As right-wing parties have gained at the ballot box through their anti-migration rhetoric, the priority for most policymakers has been to look tough and to prevent such an experience from ever happening again. To this end the European Union and individual EU member states have devoted large amounts of resources to trying to keep people in Africa. As this feature demonstrates in great detail, an awful lot has been going on.
Published in: Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: InterviewCausing harm while trying to help women in sex work
A new campaign tries to educate well-meaning people on why they often end up harming sex workers, even when they're...
COVID has blurred the lines between waged, coerced and trafficked labour in India
Labourers in India barely made ends meet before the pandemic. Many are now facing catastrophe.
Breaking down exploitation under the Palermo protocol
Exploitation comes in many forms, so it's important to be precise about what we mean when we use it.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house: time to rethink the Palermo protocol
The governments who championed Palermo are never going to trade law enforcement for social justice and human rights....
INTERVIEW: Some observations on the anti-trafficking field
Two decades since Palermo and we are still missing the wood of exploitation and injustice for the trees of anti-trafficking.
It isn’t just anti-trafficking: we must always ask whose interests we really serve
Space for critical reflection and engagement is shrinking across the NGO sector. The tactical dilemmas presented by...
Are you better or worse off? Understanding exploitation through comparison
Life rarely features binary choices between forced or free labour. The far more common question is, ‘are you worse...
The art of using supply chains to defend worker rights
The Fair Food Program protects farmworkers by closing the accountability loophole in the tomato supply chain. But...
What is exploitation in the context of ‘modern slavery’? A legal proposal
Exploitation in the context of ‘modern slavery’ is defined by three conditions: abuse of vulnerability, excessive...
When lawmakers exploit workers, can the law stop them?
Illegal sandalwood logging in India is run by local politicians bent on self-enrichment. Why would anybody stand in...
Is human trafficking truly an intractable problem?
Two decades after the Palermo Protocol came into force, is extreme exploitation un-solvable?
Exploitation in trafficking: questions of context, commerce, and conduct
In a world of cultural diversity and economic and social disparity, is it possible to agree on what it means to...
INTERVIEW: Why the AFL-CIO both sits at the table and marches in the streets
Trade unions know our labour system is broken. But how can we make it work again?
What is trafficking in a region built on exploitation? Thoughts from the Caribbean
Anti-trafficking law seeks to eradicate what European colonisers once set out to achieve, and the Caribbean has been...
Missed opportunities and exclusion: sex workers reflect on two decades of anti-trafficking
The Palermo Protocol has targeted sex workers since day one, and whenever sex workers having spoken up against it...
The Palermo Protocols at 20: a missed opportunity for ending trafficking
Nobody at the top has been interested in tackling the real causes of exploitation.