Understanding the Role of Faith Based Organisations in Anti-Trafficking

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sociological Studies


This research will be at the forefront of providing a deeper understanding of changes to the welfare state in neoliberal capitalist societies and the role of religion in the public life of secular societies by exploring how faith shapes anti-trafficking responses.

The terms 'human trafficking' and 'modern slavery' have a range of meanings and therefore estimations of their precise scale are contested, but commonly indicate a global growth of these practices. The International Labour Organization estimates that worldwide, at any one time, there are 2.5 million people in sexual or labour exploitation. These trends indicate an urgency of response and there is growing concern and attention to tackling modern slavery from governments and civil society . Responses are varied, ranging from international criminal justice legislation right through to local civil society activities.

Innovative in nature, this research addresses a significant gap in our understanding of anti-trafficking efforts - the growing role of faith based organisations (FBOs) in anti-trafficking efforts to tackle 'modern slavery' in England. FBOs include 'faith-based NGOs' that offer support to marginalised groups, but also other types of religious organisation from 'apex bodies' that represent faith traditions in the UK (e.g. the Church of England, the Sikh Council UK) to individual places of worship.

The study will provide important new insights into the role of FBOs in three areas: support for trafficked persons; campaigns and public awareness; and government and statutory responses. These areas will be explored through the following research questions:

1. Who are the FBOs operating in the field of support and provision and what are their roles?

2. What representations of trafficking circulate in campaigns and public awareness?

3. Why has there been a growth of FBOs in UK provision and responses to trafficking?

Bringing together the disciplines of Sociology, Human Geography and Religious Studies, the study combines: mapping of faith positions held by anti-trafficking organisations; case studies of service providers across the faith-secular spectrum involving qualitative in-depth interviews with managers, volunteers and trafficked persons; textual and visual analysis of organisational and campaign materials; analysis of Parliamentary debates coupled with interviews with key statutory figures; and international exploration of the anti-trafficking landscape in selected European locations. The research will consider whether the particular features of the UK case are exceptional by exploring alternative faith/ secular spectrums in anti-trafficking responses in The Netherlands, a secular Protestant country where a prominent anti-trafficking network is based, and Spain, a Catholic country where there are examples of radical faith-based responses.

The project will build a new body of empirical evidence to critically explore our understanding of the role of FBOs in tackling 'modern slavery' in a mixed welfare economy and will maximise the potential for societal and academic impact in this field. The findings will offer significant new knowledge with the potential to improve anti-trafficking practice and help build secure futures for trafficked individuals. Research beneficiaries and users will be engaged through outputs targeted at specific audiences, to include: practitioner workshops to develop a guide and video for faith-based services to identify the most effective mechanisms for supporting trafficked individuals and designing public communications on trafficking, articles in international peer-reviewed journals and relevant practitioner journals; and a closing symposium to launch the research report and guide. The goal of the research is to influence policy and practice alongside furthering our academic understanding in this area.

Planned Impact

The findings will offer significant new knowledge with the potential to improve anti-trafficking (AT) practice. They will positively influence the possibilities for recognition and implementation of effective mechanisms for building secure futures for trafficked persons (TP) which can better enable the making of informed decisions to overcome difficulties. The research beneficiaries will be engaged through activities and outputs targeted at specific audiences, drawing on AT academic and non-academic networks to advertise events and disseminate outputs, to include:
1. TP service providers and the TPs they work with. The research will directly consider models of service provision across a secular/ faith spectrum. It will explore the role of faith in supporting trafficked persons offering findings and outcomes relevant to organisations within the National Trafficking Support Contract, non-contracted service providers, and faith actors.
2. Faith-based organisation (FBO) and faith networks, representative faith bodies, religious leaders and informal faith groups working directly with, or encountering, TP. Research and impact activities designed for faith actors will develop awareness of the role of secular and faith-based organisations in AT work, and offer guidance and workshops to enhance practice and develop appreciation of rights-based approaches to offer the potential for longer term improvements to postsecular relationships in this area of welfare.
3. Lobbying, NGO and campaigning organisations involved in modern slavery and human trafficking awareness work in the UK and beyond. These groups will benefit from debates generated on the role of faith in representations of trafficking and whether this contributes to or detracts from wider goals to combat 'modern slavery', linking with more developed discussion of these issues in the United States.
4. Migrant, refugee, women's support and advice sector. This sector will have a strong interest in exploration of the religious dimensions of governmental funding and relationships, and in discussing the most effective sources of support for TP. This has relevance for the future of the migrant sector and linked areas of welfare provision with postsecular dimensions including homelessness, family planning, food aid and youth work.
5. Government officials, senior figures, and local, regional, national policymakers. The research will contribute to improved understandings of postsecular relationships and the role of FBOs in the highly topical area of modern slavery, with the UK positing itself as a world leader. Beneficiaries will include civil servants involved in 'combatting modern slavery' and contracting services, particularly in the Home Office; key governmental modern slavery figures in the Police, politicians (Lords and MPs involved in Modern Slavery Act debates and committees); equality and migrants' rights policy-makers and lobbyists such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
6. International stakeholders in the Netherlands and Spain will benefit from the in-depth UK research findings, and will ensure our research's wider resonance. This is of interest to European networks (e.g. the Spanish Network Against the Trade in People, La Strada International European network, Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe) and beyond Europe (e.g. Free the Slaves, GAATW, Santa Marta).
With extensive experience of working in the migrant sector as a volunteer and policy researcher, the PI is capable of bridging the worlds of policy and academia. The PI and Co-Is have extensive track records of practitioner publications and user engagement with non-academic stakeholders; their network of contacts in AT and FBOs will play a key role in maximising the potential for research impact. Impact activities will be significantly enhanced by the commitment and expertise of research partners who have engaged in consultation on the development of this proposal.


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