From Human Trafficking to Human Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights)

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9780812222760: From Human Trafficking to Human Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights)

Over the last decade, public, political, and scholarly attention has focused on human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery. Yet as human rights scholars Alison Brysk and Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick argue, most current work tends to be more descriptive and focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation.

In From Human Trafficking to Human Rights, Brysk, Choi-Fitzpatrick, and a cast of experts demonstrate that it is time to recognize human trafficking as more a matter of human rights and social justice, rooted in larger structural issues relating to the global economy, human security, U.S. foreign policy, and labor and gender relations. Such reframing involves overcoming several of the most difficult barriers to the development of human rights discourse: women's rights as human rights, labor rights as a confluence of structure and agency, the interdependence of migration and discrimination, the ideological and policy hegemony of the United States in setting the terms of debate, and a politics of global justice and governance.

Throughout this volume, the argument is clear: a deep human rights approach can improve analysis and response by recovering human rights principles that match protection with empowerment and recognize the interdependence of social rights and personal freedoms. Together, contributors to the volume conclude that rethinking trafficking requires moving our orientation from sex to slavery, from prostitution to power relations, and from rescue to rights. On the basis of this argument, From Human Trafficking to Human Rights offers concrete policy approaches to improve the global response necessary to end slavery responsibly.

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About the Author:

Alison Brysk is Mellichamp Professor of Global Governance in the Global and International Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick is Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements and Social Change at the University of Notre Dame.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
Rethinking Trafficking
Alison Brysk and Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Over the last decade, the problem of modern slavery has moved from being a marginal concern to a mainstream issue, with significant advances in levels of public awareness, official engagement, and specialized research. Trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced prostitution has been the primary focal point of this renewed interest in questions of human bondage. From 1865 through 1990 slavery suffered from issue depletion, only to be rediscovered as human trafficking and successfully adopted as a cause célèbre. Scholars, activists, policy makers, and the general public have found the plight of millions to be a departure point for larger conversations about globalization, prostitution, and a host of other issues. While all of this attention is critical, we believe too much of this conversation has been superficial, incomplete, or distorted—leading to a tragically inadequate response. The contributions in this volume stem from a frustration with the status quo understanding of smuggling and outmoded debates around the legalization of prostitution. Our research has shown us new dimensions of the issue that give us the opportunity to push the discourse into original, progressive analysis of rights, slavery, power, and emancipation. Our aim is to move the conversation from sex to slavery, from prostitution to power, and from rescue to rights.

Understanding the Problem

Many advocacy groups cite figures of more than 27 million people worldwide exploited in contemporary forms of slavery, with several million of those forced or tricked across borders (based on Bales [1999] 2004). The U.S. State Department estimates that up to 820,000 men, women, and children are trafficked internationally each year, while the International Organization for Migration cites a rough figure of 800,000 (U.S. Department of State 2009; International Organization for Migration 2011). The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 1.39 million people are victims of commercial sexual servitude worldwide, though this figure includes both transnational and domestic trafficking. The U.S. data suggest that about two-thirds are women and girls. Much of this traffic is from east to west (Europe) or south to north (Latin America to the United States, Southeast Asia to Europe and the United States) (U.S. Attorney General 2007).

The good news is that UN standards, U.S. aid conditionality, and human rights network campaigns have inspired dozens of countries to prohibit trafficking in persons. There are educational, law enforcement, and victim assistance efforts in sending and receiving countries; via regional programs in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia; and through global bodies such as the International Organization for Migration, the ILO, and UNICEF. The bad news is that almost a decade of antitrafficking programs have done little to reduce the incidence or the harm of the phenomenon, and they may even have diverted attention from root causes of trafficking, as well as equally harmful practices of labor exploitation affecting even greater numbers. Burgeoning recognition of some of the structural determinants of slavery in migration and prostitution has not yet registered in appropriate policies or a deeper reorientation.

Inappropriate or disproportionate policies may result from ill-founded or incomplete understanding. The United States has the most comprehensive policy and has devoted the most bureaucratic and financial resources to the issue of any single receiving country, averaging around $80 million per year over the past decade. Yet its record under the Bush administration clearly shows the limitations of traditional concepts of trafficking in addressing the problem. In the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, perhaps the central single piece of legislation, trafficking is defined as when "a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion." Under the Bush administration, the United States ignored the broader UN definition, which encompasses sexual exploitation of voluntary migrants and other forms of nonsexual contemporary slavery. While the U.S. program is theoretically oriented around the "three Ps" of prevention, protection, and prosecution, prevention efforts are quite limited to a handful of education programs, and protection focuses more on training and subsidizing service providers than on direct victim assistance. The bulk of the funding and effort is in law enforcement, both in the United States and abroad. Under the terms of 2003 legislation, renewed in 2005, U.S. policy has even gone so far as to deny funding to health, migration, and sex worker assistance organizations for antitrafficking empowerment and HIV-prevention programs if such NGOs tolerate or advocate decriminalization of commercial sex work As recently as December 2010, congressional Republicans who claim to be concerned with trafficking blocked S.987—the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010, a bill expressly designed to address one of the root causes and mechanisms of trafficking.

At the global level, some health workers and scholars believe that an overemphasis on trafficking hinders HIV prevention and empowerment of sex workers to protect themselves, as well as stigmatizing prostitutes on the basis of religion-based ideology (Pisani 2008). Worldwide, antitrafficking programs devote far more attention and resources to prosecution than protection, and still less to prevention. For example, a best-case receiving country sensitive to social context—Australia—has committed almost $7 million per year to combating trafficking in Australia through improving detection and prosecution , while a counterpart sending-country program financed by the ILO in Thailand for prevention through education and job creation provides only around $1 million per year (Australian Government 2009; HumanTrafficking.org 2006). Similarly, the vast majority of policies seek source suppression rather than demand control.

Slavery is wrong, and trafficking is slavery—but so are other, often linked forms of migration and labor. As discussed by Choi-Fitzpatrick (this volume), it is important to recognize the multiple forms that power takes in the enslavement process—it is not always explicit and recognizable coercion. Sexual violence is wrong, but trafficking is not always violent—and some of the violence comes from its suppression and illegality. Women are not always safe at home, within their states, families, or workplaces—and empowering them is more effective than rescuing them.

Trafficking as Contemporary Slavery

Rethinking trafficking as one form of contemporary slavery will help us to see more clearly its roots, consequences, and connections to other forms of exploitive labor and smuggling. Choi-Fitzpatrick's chapter situates trafficking in the larger pattern of contemporary slavery, so we can benefit from the insights of existing scholarship and analyze the sources of the harm as disempowerment. He applies a multifaceted analysis of power to theorize the structural, cultural, and psychological sources of domination. This diagnosis leads to a better understanding of a prescription for emancipation based in the agency of all actors situated along the spectrum of enslavement.

Contemporary slavery may take new forms, but it must fundamentally be understood as an "extension and/or reconfiguration of enduring historical themes, rather than as distinctively modern developments" (Quirk, this volume). Quirk also points out that these "enduring historical themes" must be explored in greater depth, as they have critical and unexamined impacts on antislavery efforts, such as the historic connection between abolition and colonial conquest, which predisposes us to rescue rather than to restore rights.

Rethinking trafficking as slavery means rethinking our cultural constructions. Gulati's insightful study (this volume) of media depictions of trafficking in Britain, the United States, and Canada demonstrates empirically what has long been argued by advocates of a human rights approach to slavery. He shows that media reports: (1) tend to characterize the issue as mainly involving trafficking for sexual exploitation and (2) organized crime; (3) draw heavily on mainstream sources, ignoring alternative perspectives; and (4) tend mainly to consider more superficial and technical interventions. Gulati's sharpest critique is reserved for a media that tends to parrot dominant policy approaches, effectively limiting the public's exposure to competing perspectives on the issues at stake.

Prostitution to Power

In Brysk's words, "The problem is powerlessness, not prostitution, and the solution to powerlessness is politics—not prohibition" (this volume). Human rights are increasingly understood to be claims against both governments and other sources of authority typically associated with trafficking and slavery (employers, military leaders, family members), while enforcement is the responsibility of all states (Brysk, this volume; 2005). Analysts of trafficking policy distinguish human rights versus law enforcement versus migration control versus moralistic approaches to trafficking, which prioritize different values of national security, cultural norms, and universal human dignity. But traffickers are not just criminals who can be suppressed by law and order; they are delegated agents of social control in exploitive systems of labor and corrupt regimes. Borders are not just demarcations of territory that can be better ordered, but violently contested market niches. Commercial sex is not just a transgression of socially approved channels for male sexual appetite, but an explicit commodification of female reproductive labor that turns some women into unwilling objects rather than self-determining persons. The common element is that individuals lack agency and control of exploitive social systems: human rights.

Wasilewski and Miller's contribution to this volume reminds us of the role that gender inequity plays in constructing trafficking as a form of violence against women. They show the differential state response to such violence depending on securitization of smuggling, not rights or protection for women who are victims. In a similar vein, Hebert (this volume) suggests the putative human rights approach undertaken by the United States in the form of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) lacks a commitment to the indivisibility that underpins the human rights system, and it may in fact exacerbate vulnerability among the enslaved. In her chapter she makes the case that the United States' approach to trafficking is informed by concerns over security and insecurity and is based on prostitution rather than on powerlessness of the victims. Thus trafficked individuals are perpetual outsiders demonstrating the need for enhanced security. But not only is the trafficked individual a threat to the state's physical borders, she is also a threat to the state's moral authority. Trafficked individuals (and migrants in general) are the dreaded Other, a form of cultural contaminant (in this case in the form of a "helpless, disempowered female victim"). In this light, trafficked individuals are neither helpless victims (as in the moral crusader narrative) nor rights-bearing individuals (as in the human rights framework) but are instead seen as dangerous transnational actors. Hebert suggests that the TVPA, far from being a seminal human rights effort to end trafficking, may be better seen as a tool for the regulation of autonomy, especially an autonomy that threatens moral and national borders.

Moreover, international structures of power and political economy now help to constitute domination—even seemingly benign or neutral aspects of global governance. Both Charles Smith (focusing on Kosovo, Haiti, Sierra Leone, and Nepal) and Heather Smith (focusing specifically on Haiti) in this volume contribute to an empirically informed analysis of the ways international actors—in their cases, peacekeepers, themselves a product of earlier human rights victories—generate conditions ripe for human trafficking. These findings challenge assessments of international organizations that would see the influx of peacekeepers as a net-positive contribution to situations of radical instability. In a further move, Charles Smith suggests that when peacekeepers move on and demand diminishes, trafficked individuals are either moved to follow the demand or are repurposed for the very drug or arms trafficking that is often responsible for initiating destabilizing flows of weapons and narcotics—flows that are easily linked to the resurgence of conflict.

This cautionary assessment of international intervention is of a type with Quirk (this volume), who argues that a number of factors, including colonial imperatives and stylized notions of what it meant to be civilized, affected Britain's abolitionist policies and that global hierarchies undermine the export of empowerment. Gallagher (this volume) suggests that while the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports mandated by the TVPA have prompted a stunning number of countries to comply with demands for new policies and approaches, it is not at all clear whether they have been effective in reducing levels of slavery (U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO] 2006, 2007).

From Rescue to Rights

How can a human rights approach bring us from protecting our borders from prostitution toward empowerment and true global change? A human rights approach to trafficking and contemporary slavery reorients our analysis and response by showing that:


  • people lacking human rights are the most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation;
  • trafficking and exploitation are violations of fundamental universal rights, not moral problems of perpetrators, victims, families, or cultures;
  • sending states have a responsibility to protect the human rights of their citizens from all sources, including nonstate actors like employers, smugglers, and families;
  • international responses to trafficking should focus on remedying and restoring rights, ideally through representation and not rescue;
  • receiving states have a responsibility to protect the human rights of all residents on their territory, so crime and border control efforts relevant to trafficking must be rights-based and subject to monitoring and accountability as such.
This is echoed by van den Anker's call for a cosmopolitan model of global justice (this volume). Cosmopolitanism describes an approach in which individuals as well as states have duties across borders to make human rights accessible to all, whether they are in their home country or abroad. Such a model would ultimately serve to reduce human trafficking, especially, she points out, if this cosmopolitanism is recognized as also involving duties to those without citizenship. Clearly the process of recognizing and then obtaining such power and recognition is neither simple nor popular for enslaved individuals or their advocates.

And even in the United States, there are signs that new understandings may provide an opportunity for the further expansion of the h...

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