Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Towards Decent Work for All

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Dickson Poon School of Law Departments


The severe labour exploitation encapsulated in terms like 'forced labour', 'bonded labour', 'child labour', 'human trafficking' and 'modern slavery' is widely regarded as a major contemporary development challenge. Indeed India alone is said to have to have the highest number of modern slaves (18.3 million) in the world (Global Slavery Index 2016) and many regions including South Asia, Africa and Latin America face the gravest challenges in achieving "decent work for all". Although governments and civil society have decried such practices as 'the underside of globalisation' and as an affront to human dignity, passed anti-slavery and anti-trafficking legislation, and spent over £1.5 billion since the turn of the century on anti-slavery policy, the world's leaders have nevertheless placed 'forced labour', 'human trafficking' and 'modern slavery' at the heart of the Sustainable Development Agenda, with SDG 8.7 calling directly for their eradication.

This reflects the fact that policy aimed at ridding the world of severe exploitation is consistently hampered by a dearth of nuanced, sophisticated empirical understandings. The Beyond Trafficking and Slavery network (BTS) exists to fill precisely this gap. BTS is a multi-disciplinary group of academics and civil society organisations from the global north and global south who are experts on the severe exploitation targeted by SDG 8.7. Established in 2014, BTS operates primarily through, an established 'digital commons' based in the UK that commands an annual readership of over nine million unique visitors. Combining the rigour of academic scholarship with the clarity of journalism and the immediacy of political advocacy, it brings together scholars, policy-makers, and civil society organisations keen to advance understanding of, and policies to address, the structural, political, economic, and social root causes of global exploitation, vulnerability and unfree labour. In the past two years alone, BTS has published over 300 articles from more than 200 contributors, and entered into public debate with large institutional actors including Human Rights Watch, the International Labour Organisation and the UK's Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

BTS now intends to expand this work by engaging directly with research and activism in developing countries from South Asia (India), Africa (South Africa) and Latin America (Mexico). BTS will convene regional workshops in these countries bringing together all relevant stakeholders, including critical academic voices, high-level political officials, NGOs, the UN, labour and business organisations, donors, civil society and individuals with expertise on severe labour exploitation. It will host capacity-building trainings for local and regional civil society alongside these workshops, co-ordinate joint mapping of the knowledge terrain around SDG 8.7, and joint articulation of a research agenda that can equip policy-makers, particularly in the global south, with the conceptual and empirical tools necessary to achieve it, fostering south-south knowledge sharing in the process.

BTS will conclude its expanded network activities by drafting a report for the ESRC-GCRF (given its focus on migration and development, inequalities, and inclusive growth) entitled The Global Research Agenda for SDG 8.7: Understanding and Addressing Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery. This will be shared widely with global stakeholders engaged around SDG 8.7, as will workshop proceedings and the latest research. Public dissemination will take place through the BTS website at, using text, podcasts, and video, as well as a targeted social media strategy. BTS will also lay the foundations for a UK-based Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery, which will position the UK as a world leader in responding to this development challenge, in turn informing future UK donor and research policy.

Planned Impact

Since October 2014, BTS has attracted half a million unique visitors from more than 100 countries and contributions from key institutions including Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UNESCO. The BTS website has published over 300 articles from over 250 different authors, and released its acclaimed Short Course (BTS 2016, Vols. 1-9), the world's first open-access 'e-syllabus' on forced labour, trafficking, and slavery. BTS not only commands academic expertise and a worldwide academic network, but also strong relationships with core stakeholders including trade unions (International Trade Union Confederation, National Trade Union Initiative, Asia Floor Wage Alliance), international organisations (UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO), NGOs (Anti-Slavery International, Walk Free, The Freedom Fund, La Strada International), governments and grassroots groups. BTS has been endorsed by the EU's Anti-Trafficking Commissioner, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Modern Slavery, La Strada International and the Freedom Fund. BTS has become a key reference point in high-profile political debates, including around Britain's Modern Slavery Bill and Immigration Bill (now both Acts), during which it received contributions from several commentators seeking to influence parliament. Thus, BTS is accustomed to generating knowledge in the formats necessary to effectively reach its beneficiaries and users, namely, policy-makers, students, activists, and the general public.
BTS now seeks to co-define a global research agenda around SDG 8.7, which the ILO identifies as essential for promoting "decent work for all" (ILO 2016). Building on its efforts to map the terrain of critical knowledge on issues relating to SDG 8.7 over the past two years, BTS will achieve this by convening three regional workshops designed to generate a systematic, original and practical account of the most effective ways of understanding and addressing severe exploitation and vulnerability in the global south, by integrating underlying socio-economic dynamics such as migration, inequality and insecurity into the analysis. We are confident of leading these workshops. The PI is on the advisory board of the five-year, ILO-DFID Work in Freedom project that seeks to facilitate safe migration of women from South Asia, and thus has access to a large network of actors in Nepal, Bangladesh and India. Similarly, our international co-investigators:Neil Howard (Belgium), Joel Quirk (South Africa), Gabriella Sanchez (Mexico) and Ana Lucia Araujo (Brazil) - have extensive networks in Africa and Latin America, which they will leverage to achieve participation and impact across the other regional workshops. While several BTS network members have long-standing relationships with the ILO (not least Dr Khan, who is its Head of Research and Evaluation), the key agency coordinating 'Alliance 8.7'. At the regional workshops, BTS will craft a global research agenda on SDG 8.7 in close collaboration with the beneficiaries and users of its research, namely, academics, governments, state bodies, NGOs, trade unions, the UN, business organisations and donors. These actors will in turn use these workshops not only to network with each other but to identify and advocate for policy initiatives to make SDG 8.7 a reality. BTS will share its workshop reports and the final project report with all participating stakeholders, at an ESRC-GCRF launch event in London, and online in multi-media format. Other beneficiaries will include the global network of scholars and activists aggregated around BTS' online portal, including many from the global south; local and regional actors attending capacity-building trainings held alongside the workshops; and the central stakeholders engaged in Alliance 8.7, including participating southern governments and northern donors (who will benefit from targeted policy suggestions). The BTS website will be critical for reaching these stakeholders for the life of the ESRC-GCRF awards.
Description What were the most significant achievements from the award?
Through our Strategic Networks Grant, we have organized workshops and undertaken initiatives to the public understanding of the problems of human trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery as well shape government policy.

1. The BTS team organized an international level workshop at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, India titled Bridging Silos: Trafficking, Slavery and SDG 8.7 between August 8-10 2017. The primary goal of the workshop was to bridge discursive and policy silos between various stakeholders working on different forms of extreme exploitation in India, including, bonded labour, contract labour, child labour, intra-state and inter-state migrant work, cross-border migration to the Gulf, forced labour, and coerced sex work to come together to take stock of the contemporary global discourse around trafficking and modern slavery and articulate a renewed alternative conceptual, political, legal and policy agenda. Over three days, 55 activists, academics and representatives from international organizations from India, US, UK, Europe and Thailand met in Bangalore to reclaim the anti-trafficking agenda from anti-sex work abolitionists who narrowly rely on criminal law mechanisms with a focus on raids, rescue, rehabilitation, to instead articulate a robust labour law approach to trafficking and cognate forms of extreme exploitation with an emphasis on systemic approaches to redressing inequality and achieving redistribution.

2. The BTS team organized a regional workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa titled Moving Beyond Paternalism: Supplicants, Saviours and the Politics of Anti-Slavery and Anti-Trafficking in Africa between November 29 to December 1, 2017. The BTS workshop in Johannesburg provided an opportunity for 36 participants from 15 countries to share, exchange and critically reflect on the politics of paternalism in shaping anti-slavery and anti-trafficking discourse, and continental patterns of intervention and investment by both non-African governments and international organizations. Over two days, nine panels of scholars, practitioners and activists, NGOs and civil society organizations addressed the central question: How can the history of slavery and abolition in Africa help to better understand the origins and operations of more recent claims and campaigns relating to anti-slavery and anti-trafficking? Delegates reflected on central concepts such as the White Savour Industrial Complex, the Rescue Industry and Philanthrocapitalism in order to better understand the formulation and implementation of anti-slavery and/or other related humanitarian and development projects in Africa.

3. BTS organized a regional workshop in Mexico City titled Migration, Exploitation, Gender, Race and Violence: Beyond Anti-Trafficking in the Americas between January 4-5, 2018. The BTS Workshop in Mexico City provided an opportunity for over 19 participants from 8 countries to share their expertise on improving understanding of the challenges to achieving the SDG 8.7. Over two days scholars, activists, representatives from civil society and NGOs and resource persons from national, regional and international organisations discussed and critically reflected on the indicators, tools, methodologies, and policy and programming considerations and approaches for measuring, evaluating and monitoring progress on trafficking and modern slavery across Latin America and the Caribbean region.

4. BTS organized a major capacity-building workshop with the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women between 17-20 August 2017 titled Human Trafficking, Forced Labour and Modern Slavery: Understanding Popular Narratives, & Planning Strategic Action in Bangkok, Thailand. The primary goal of this convening was to understand the human rights implications of frameworks such as human trafficking, forced labour, and modern slavery that claim to address rights violations in the context of people's migration and work today, through prevention, protection, and prosecution and more broadly, state control of human mobility in a globalised world. While acknowledging the fluidity of these frameworks, we wanted to understand the politics behind their popularity at a time that is marked by massive displacement and loss of livelihood, weakening of the welfare state and the public sector, erosion of human rights, rise of aggressive nationalism and religious extremism and shrinking space for civil society. The workshop brought together 40 participants from GAATW member organisations and allies from across the world.

Over three days, we discussed the emergence of human trafficking as an international concern in the mid-1980s and its developments until the present-day; the political economy of work, in particular women's work, in a globalised world; the concepts of freedom, exploitation and slavery and the attempts to define and quantify them; the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that migrant women face and the creative ways in which they and their support organisations assist them. On the final day, we outlined some concrete actions that we can take as civil society to advocate for improved labour and migration governance mechanisms.

5. In addition, BTS explored the sensitive issue of working children, to ask how - as their labor is currently a given - the world might better protect them. This included a small numbers of articles from academics studying child work, as well as a series of interventions from organized groups of working children and their allies that their demands in their own words. This was released alongside the launch of the ILO's IV Global Conference on Child labor in Buenos Aires (14-16 Nov, 2017), to not only give open input into the conference proceedings but also to highlight that working children were not invited to attend a meeting about them.

6. BTS' Domestic Workers Speak project was produced between June 15-17, 2017 in Venice in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Milan-Bicocca. It included a direct testimonial series, where domestic workers groups from around the world wrote about the challenges they face and their methods of fighting back in their specific contexts. We acted as their communications allies, helping them to polish their texts and to publish them on a widely read medium but without attempting to shape their arguments away from what they wanted to say. This series, an accompanying ebook, and a video for social media was launched in front of an audience of domestic worker activists on National Domestic Workers Rights Day, who had gathered in Milan to compare notes and to discuss the next stage of the fight. A series of interviews with the activists were recorded during this conference to be later broadcast during the 16 days against GBV in December. Finally, we produced a policy debate aimed at moving the conversation forward in a constructive way by asking eight participants - all experts in the field in different ways - whether "employees can be allies in the fight for domestic workers' rights". Their responses reflected a diverse set of experiences and many found their way to 'win-win' scenarios for both employer and employee.

7. BTS produced with our colleagues at the University of Texas at El Paso the second Human Smugglers Roundtable held between 5-8 April, 2017 - a forum for experts on human smuggling to discuss how migrants and smugglers are working to circumvent border controls and the follow-on effects of those decisions. Apart from an online roundtable featuring most of the workshop's participants, we produced an interview series with the experts there about how the negative effects of border controls on North America's migrant labor force could be mitigated, and how American policy and discourse around migration could be shifted toward a less hostile space. The highlight of this series was a lengthy interview with youth social workers from Juarez, Mexico about the professionalisation of children as guides for workers attempting to cross the border irregularly.

8. Starting March 2018, BTS has convened a 9 week MOOC titled Forced and Precarious Labor in the Global Economy: Slavery by Another Name? This course explains how the economic engine of the global economy runs on forced and precarious labor and how worker and migrant rights can be strengthened. The MOOC currently has 500 registered students.

In addition we have published 310 blog posts and interviews on BTS over the past year. Specifically related to the themes of the ESRC grant, we have published 76 outputs to date, which we have uploaded onto research fish. Several outputs relating to the grant are yet to come and will be added to research fish as they become available. Our outputs have had tremendous reach. Since January 2017 BTS has received 347,681 views (ca. 23,000 a month) from 220,980 unique viewers.
Exploitation Route As our grant is still active and since we have engaged in organising many workshops and online initiatives with participants from around the world, it is difficult to estimate exactly how our work will be carried forward by academics, activists and members of governmental and international organisations who we have interacted with. We will however take forward the results of our workshops and online initiatives funded by the ESRC grant to draft The Global Research Agenda for SDG 8.7: Understanding and Addressing Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery which we believe will be used by government and non-governmental donor agencies to fund projects in the field.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The grant is ongoing and the regional workshops were concluded only at the start of this year. Hence the impact of the project is difficult to assess. However, we have published 310 blog posts and interviews on BTS over the past year. Specifically related to the themes of the ESRC grant, we have published 76 outputs to date, which we have uploaded onto research fish. Several outputs relating to the grant are yet to come and will be added to research fish as they become available. Our outputs have had tremendous reach. Since January 2017 BTS has received 347,681 views (ca. 23,000 a month) from 220,980 unique viewers. In relation to our regional workshops, we have been able to bridge various divides -by bringing into conversation 1. activists, academics and members of UN organizations 2. activists from workers' groups working on different labor sectors within a given national setting and 3. activists from different countries into a regional conversation. In fact, in the first workshop held in South Asia, we were able to lay the groundwork for a national alliance for decent work, which issued a statement on forced labor and SDG 8.7 that was published on BTS and in the national press. Furthermore several participants at this workshop are proposing actively to intervene on the 2018 Trafficking Bill, which is to be tabled before the Indian Parliament shortly. This Bill was tabled in the Indian parliament and with the help of the stakeholders who were present at the South Asia conference we were able to mobilise to critique the 2018 Trafficking Bill which was subsequently not passed by Parliament. The relevant ministry is reworking the Bill given the feedback and critique that stakeholders managed to publish. Similar processes have been set into motion in South Africa and Latin America through the regional workshops conducted there. A major challenge here has been bringing workers' rights groups into the conversation on trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery given the historical association of trafficking with sex work and trafficking for sex work. The resistance to discussing trafficking amongst workers' groups and trade unions persists although we are beginning to find solidarity (especially for sex workers) in these conversations as well. It has also been a challenge to inject genuine voices from activists in the global south into a global debate about decent work; one, which rarely includes them, yet is largely about them. Our work as a communications ally for groups in the third/voluntary sectors have enabled groups generally locked away from western and English speaking audiences to start making the voices heard, and our work coordinating events have enabled activists from the third/voluntary sectors to gather and exchange views with academics, broadening their networks and giving them an information exchange. While the discussion around SDG 8.7 has become drowned out by threats of trade wars and what not, we have managed to create a wealth of resources from less-heard voices for that discussion once it picks up steam again.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Memorandum of Understanding between Dickson Poon School of Law King's College London and NLSIU, Bangalore 
Organisation National Law School of India University
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I hosted the first of our three regional workshops (for South Asia) at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU). Specifically 4 members of the BTS research team travelled to Bangalore for the workshop. I facilitated the signing of an MOU between the Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London and NLSIU, Bangalore.
Collaborator Contribution NLSIU equally contributed to the organisation of our first workshop as part of the grant titled Bridging Silos: Trafficking, Slavery and SDG 8.7 in August 2017. Specifically the Centre for Labour Studies at NLSIU hosted the workshop.
Impact This collaboration resulted in the bridging of several disciplines including law, sociology, political science, development studies and anthropology. It also bridged academics, activists and members of international organisations such as the ILO.
Start Year 2017
Description MOOC Forced and Precarious Labor in the Global Economy: Slavery by Another Name? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Much of the global economy runs on forced and precarious labor. This course in the form of a MOOC explains how this economic engine operates, and how worker and migrant rights can be strengthened. Spread over 9 weeks the MOOC addresses key issues in the debates on trafficking, slavery, modern slavery, smuggling and SDG 8.7 with a view to educating the lay public in non-academic terms. Led by some of the world's leading authorities in the field, this course provides an introduction to the role of forced and precarious labor in the global economy. Building upon content from the widely acclaimed online platform 'Beyond Trafficking and Slavery,' it explores how vulnerable workers - whose conditions are frequently compared to slavery - routinely endure precarious pay and conditions in order to generate goods and services further up the economic chain. The course will explore how various kinds of exploitation have been classified - as modern slavery, human trafficking, or forced labor - and consider some of the effects of using the language of slavery to describe the abuses that are happening today. The primary focus of the course will be migrants and workers. Students will learn how patterns of exploitation are linked to economic and political interests. They will be invited to consider the strengths and limitations of different models of intervention and protection. Drawing upon examples from across the world, the course will specifically focus on labor in three major categories of work: supply chain work, migrant work, and sex work. Students will be asked to consider how these categories' connections to global economic and political forces create patterns of vulnerable, precarious, and forced labor. The course will also consider the limitations of popular approaches focusing upon the politics of rescue, and instead consider alternatives based upon models of worker rights, collective organizing, and decent work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A statement was issued by 55 activists, academics and ILO officials on trafficking and SDG8.7 at the Bangalore workshop which was reported in a leading national newspaper the Hindu for dissemination to the public. This statement has been valuable in thinking about ways forward for achieving the goals of SDG8.7 and for lobbying Indian Parliamentarians on the 2018 Trafficking Bill.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017