Introduction: Issues in Modern Slavery - A New GP E-Book

By Anastasia Vasilyeva - 02 November 2023
 Introduction: Issues in Modern Slavery - A New GP E-Book

Anastasia Vasilyeva introduces and overviews a new Global Policy e-book available for free now.

Often thought to be a malice of the past, slavery continues to take on a variety of forms across the globe and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable - refugees, migrants, women, children, and marginalized identity groups. According to the IOM, fifty million people were enslaved in 2022. That figure includes individuals in conditions of forced and bonded labor, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced marriages.

This eBook assembles insights from leading academics and practitioners whose work addresses frontier questions around modern slavery. Key themes examined in this volume include causes of slavery, approaches to prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation, issues of definition and classification, policy shortcomings, and others. Many of the authors challenge the idea that slavery is categorically different from other forms of exploitation and advocate for focusing on reducing all types of vulnerabilities and empowering those on the margins of the global economy. Others critique dominant legislation surrounding the issue highlighting the unintended consequences that often reveal gaps in the mainstream understanding and operationalization of the experiences of slavery. Yet others discuss strategies for helping the victims and identifying the offenders. The articles collected in this eBook cite examples from various corners of the world, highlighting the global nature of this issue.

1.jpgThe volume begins with an essay by Joel Quirk who questions how slavery is defined and understood today. He focuses on the legacy and canonized imagery of Transatlantic slavery as a benchmark against which exploitative practices are classified as free or unfree labor. Where does it leave the practices and conditions that fall short of this extraordinary threshold? The author argues that the political consequences of focusing on the most extreme forms of abuse obscure the suffering of the many “free” workers at the bottom of supply chains whose exploitation is normalized within modern legal and moral frameworks.

Jonathan Mandel and Kiril Sharapov critique the anti-trafficking industry by highlighting the perverse incentives faced by practitioners, a lack of focus on evidence and evaluation, and funding misuse. The authors argue that many anti-trafficking interventions are ineffective or even harmful, describing raids-based approaches that conflate trafficking with illegal immigration, citing the lack of behavior change resulting from awareness campaigns, and discussing poorly designed anti-trafficking apps. Mandel and Sharapov argue for the defunding of the anti-trafficking industry and a refocusing on addressing exploitation and vulnerability through redistributive justice and strengthening worker and migrant rights.

Several chapters in this eBook are dedicated to the legislative approaches that regulate responses to exploitation, determine the victim’s status, and define the level of authority of the state over certain sectors. These essays highlight the importance of legal frameworks for the material experiences of marginalized individuals who are labeled as slavery victims, as well as those who are excluded from that definition.

Jaffer Latief Najar considers the legacy of the anti-trafficking framework laid out in the Palermo Protocol over 20 years ago. The author argues that the operationalization of the ideas defined in the Protocol in many cases results in the denial of agency to consent, specifically in the context of sex work and labor migration. Najar cites his own research with sex workers in Kolkata, India that showed that the interventions influenced by the Palermo Protocol were often experienced as harmful by the intended beneficiaries. The essay concludes that conflating human trafficking with sex work and migration results in further disenfranchisement of some of the most vulnerable segments of global society.

Ronald Weitzer considers the evidence around the effect of decriminalization and legalization on sex trafficking rates and the well-being of sex workers. The author begins by highlighting the shortcomings of the two studies most commonly cited in anti-prostitution laws. Weitzer then argues that in-depth case studies, rather than large multinational correlation studies, are better suited for understanding the impact of the change of the criminalization status on previously criminalized businesses, citing case studies on the legalization of prostitution in Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia. Much of the research around the legal status of sex work appears to suggest that it is criminalization, not legalization, that increases risks.

Samar El-Masri interrogates the factors that lead to the failure to deliver justice to Yazidi survivors of sexual slavery inflicted by ISIS. The precedence of ISIS membership as a sufficient criterion for a death penalty under the terrorism charge discouraged the collection of evidence and implementation of reparatory measures for the Yazidi victims who were seeking justice for the specific crimes committed against them. El-Masri argues that this resulted in victims of ISIS sexual slavery being denied the opportunity for public reckoning, confronting their abusers, locating women and girls who are still missing, and gathering evidence to memorialize the victims.

This volume further explores approaches to preventing and mitigating slavery. Several authors share unorthodox ideas for initiatives that could help survivors and address the causes of exploitation.

In their essay, Alex Balch and Lennon Mhishi offer a compelling perspective on the use of creative survivor-led approaches to modern slavery research and advocacy. The authors describe the model developed by the Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network, a University of Liverpool initiative that supports research and commissions projects that focus on arts-based community-centered approaches to anti-slavery action in several countries in Africa. The initiatives use creative and ethnographic methods to challenge narratives and break taboos in discussing exploitation, while engaging survivors and local community groups. The projects supported by the network use techniques like photography, performance, film, storytelling and more to rethink and document the experiences of communities and individuals affected by labor exploitation.

Neil Howard makes a thought-provoking case for universal basic income as a solution for eradicating modern slavery. The author argues that slavery is an extreme example of everyday exploitation under capitalism and addressing it requires eliminating its necessary contingents of vulnerability and propertylessness. In practice, the binary between coercion and consent becomes meaningless for workers on the margins of the global economy who are often compelled by circumstance to enter into conditions of slavery. Howard suggests that UBI would reduce vulnerabilities and render exploitation impossible.

Peter Bengsten focuses on the European regulatory environment aimed at addressing labor abuses down the supply chains. While new laws are being developed to solidify the punishment for labor abuse, the lack of effective monitoring and detection systems undermine the impact of these efforts. The author describes four distinct models for labor abuse monitoring that could fill the existing governance gap.

Other authors offer thematic case studies. For example, Deanna Davy explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the individuals affected by or vulnerable to modern slavery, organizations that provide support to the affected populations, and actors that engage in trafficking. Davy argues that the layoffs spurred by the pandemic resulted in increased inequality and debt that are linked to various forms of slavery. The pandemic also affected migrant workers, many of whom lost their jobs and found themselves stranded in a foreign country without the means to return home. Similarly, those already in situations of slavery suffered from a lack of access to medical care, health information, and other support, while the ability of NGOs to deliver support was disrupted by lockdowns and border closures. With that, Davy advocates for a way forward which includes the allocation of resources to social protection of the vulnerable, including migrants, and designing ways to deliver access to medical and other support services to the victims of slavery. 

Loria-Mae Heywood sheds light on the scale of child slavery and describes the factors that make it so common on the supply and demand sides. The author describes three approaches that have been successful at addressing child exploitation in Bangladesh, West Africa, and the Netherlands. Heywood writes that while these initiatives provide positive local examples of meaningful resistance against child slavery, scaling up their effects would require implementing global measures aimed at reducing the profitability of the trafficking industry and establishing protection systems for at-risk children.

Sarah Meo and Louise Shelley examine recent legal cases accusing hotel entities of facilitating trafficking. With hotels often becoming sites of exploitation, the authors investigate the ways in which hotels can enable trafficking, interrogate the effectiveness of the current anti-trafficking policies in the industry, and question the reluctance of many hotel brands to adopt more comprehensive guidelines and implementation practices.

The e-book also includes geographical case studies that illustrate how modern slavery manifests in different countries. The authors describe the unique features of labor exploitation in the selected locality, highlight local anti-trafficking efforts, and advocate for contextually tailored solutions to complement global frameworks.

In the first case study, Alexis Aronowitz reviews the patterns and causes of migrant worker abuses in the Gulf States that include harsh working and living conditions, salary withholdment, retention of passports, and physical or sexual abuse. The Kafala, an employer-driven work sponsorship system, establishes dependence whereby the kafeel holds significant legal and economic power over the migrant worker. Under kafala systems, workers’ rights to seek new jobs, leave the country, join unions or demand a minimum wage may be subject to regulation. Aronowitz also proposes reforms for sending and receiving countries to address the current situation of migrant workers in the Gulf.

Stephen Collins presents a fascinating case study from Ghana on the use of survivor testimony in theater performance. The project was implemented in James Town where, despite being a hotspot of modern slavery recruitment, the topic of modern slavery remains taboo. The script of the play was developed through in-depth interviews with survivors and performed by a local theater troupe. Audiences were encouraged to discuss the impact the play left on them and consider solutions they thought would fit their community.

Vera Gracheva describes the experience of working with the Russian trailblazing anti-trafficking network “The Alternative” in the desert-like infrastructural landscape where partnerships, awareness, rehabilitation processes, and even funding all needed to be built from scratch. Gracheva writes that, with high levels of poverty and illegal immigration, the population vulnerable to human trafficking is vast, while mechanisms for detecting and prosecuting cases of slavery are underdeveloped. The author describes how “The Alternative” operates a network of volunteers to respond to reported cases, highlighting the diversity of exploitative situations and types of victims the organization has encountered throughout the years of its operations. 

Tryon P. Woods argues that the USA’s criminal justice system presents a clear case study in modern slavery. With the highest rate of incarceration in the world, the state of the USA’ prisons today is interwoven with the country’s history of anti-black racism. Woods argues that policymaking that sought to criminalize the black community and pursue profit crystallized in the current phenomenon of the prison industrial complex. The comparison of practices in modern USA prisons and pre-abolition South reveals many similarities manifesting through themes of uncompensated labor, profit-making, resistance, and material living conditions.

Gary Craig brings attention to forced labor in rural parts of the UK, an issue that remained on the fringes of policy making until the mid-noughties. Craig argues that rural slavery has a number of unique dimensions that are generally not considered in national anti-slavery strategies. These features include higher distances between towns and low population density, fewer civil society partners, and fewer resources, all of which make it harder to identify and help victims. With that, the author advocates that organizations tasked with responding to modern slavery develop approaches that are sensitive to these differences. 

Binka Le Breton shares an overview of modern day slavery and the fight against it in Brazil. Forced labor, and most commonly debt slavery, penetrates many of the country’s key industries, such as logging, mining, and agriculture. Factors like the lack of decent jobs and rural poverty, widespread corruption, and vast amounts of remote Amazonian land align to create conditions that trap many vulnerable men. Le Breton details the efforts of the government and civil society that resulted in meaningful successes, while acknowledging that much more needs to be done until forced labor is fully eradicated in Brazil.

It is the editor’s hope that this volume galvanizes the reader to think critically about the themes and ideas presented by the authors, as well as take further steps to stay informed on issues of exploitation or get involved with local initiatives.


To download the free e-book as a PDF or for e-book readers, please click here.


Anastasia Vasilyeva is a former intern for Global Policy and a current Research Manager at Consilient.

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