Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Written by Olivia Arigho-Stiles on . Posted in Current publications, Publications

_cover-Beyond Trafficking and Slavery. Julia O’Connell Davidson & Neil Howard (eds). (Open Democracy, 2015)

Trafficking, forced labour and slavery have emerged as major issues in today’s global milieu. It is near universally accepted by governments, NGOs and civil society that they have no place in societies which profess to be advanced and democratic. But how best to interpret the causes of, and eradicate these phenomena is much less agreed upon.

Neil Howard, a Marie Curie Fellow at the EUI is one of seven academics who have compiled an e-syllabus entitled Beyond Trafficking and Slavery to offer a trenchant criticism not only of exploitative practices, but also orthodox interpretations of their cause.

Speaking to EUI Times, Howard explains, “We came together frustrated at the fact that dominant scholarship and media usage of scholarship does not focus on exploitation in a politicised fashion. It has very narrow, themed critiques and not systemic analyses of why these things happen. We critique the structures of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.”

Available to read on the Open Democracy website, Howard hopes that the e-Syllabus will be accessible to a broad section of academics, activists and practitioners. He adds, “We wanted to change the dominant narrative and put critical scholarship in the public domain in order to politicise the common narrative that explains this phenomena.” The e-syllabus hence aims to bridge the gulf between academic research and political activism, and to resonate with readers from a plurality of backgrounds.

The academics have all conducted extensive empirical research with children and adults who have been subject to the exploitation labelled as forced labour and trafficking. Their aim is to amplify the voices of those who are often left out of discourse on trafficking, or have their agency removed through predominating ‘victim’ tropes.

In Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, gender additionally emerges as a crucial theme. In the mainstream media, women are often portrayed in sensational ways as young, innocent and uniquely susceptible to forced prostitution. As Howard outlines, “in a very basic way, we problematize notions of vulnerability that reduce women (or womanhood) solely to vulnerability and hold women in the position of classically patriarchal passivity. So that includes the iconography of women in chains and bondage which denotes passivity and plays into patriarchal orientalist fantasies. We emphasise women’s agency and their collective organisation.”

Likewise, Howard emphases that men are also exploited in gendered labour, and that the gender dimensions of exploitation are more expansive than sometimes perceived. “Gendered exploitation includes care work and household reproduction. These gendered construction of capitalism goes far beyond notions of sexual slavery”, he points out.

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery therefore offers a spirited contribution to current debates on forced labour and exploitation in the world. Providing analyses that contest dominant narratives adopted by media and policymaking organisations, the e-syllabus also affirms the holistic importance of gender in understanding these phenomena.

Tags: , , ,