Modern Slavery, Human Rights and Development

Over the last decade, the problem of ‘modern slavery’ has moved from being a marginal concern to a mainstream issue, with overall levels of public awareness, official engagement, and specialised research all experiencing significant advances. The primary focal point of this renewed interest in questions of human bondage has been trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced prostitution. Other related problem areas include bonded labour, the worst forms of child labour, ‘classical’ slavery and descent-based discrimination, forced labour for the state, wartime enslavement and servile ‘marriage’, and the severe exploitation of migrants and domestic workers. This evolving agenda reflects contributions from human rights groups and international organizations, such as Anti-Slavery International and the United Nations, and a series of national and regional initiatives, such as the annual Trafficking in Persons Reports published by the United States government since 2001.

This workshop has two primary goals. First, it aims to connect an emerging literature concerned with modern slavery and human trafficking with more established scholarship in the related fields of human rights and human development. Secondly, it aims to offer a constructive critique of key policies and programs that have recently been introduced by both governments and non-governmental organizations in an effort to combat modern slavery. These two objectives are intimately related. Despite some recent advances, both research into and public policy responses towards modern slavery remain at a preliminary stage. The fields of human rights and human development both have more established pedigrees – both in the academy and the world at large – so there is much that work can potentially offer efforts to understand and eradicate modern slavery. It has also recently become apparent, moreover, that research into modern forms of slavery can only go so far without giving sustained consideration to underlying connections between modern slavery and a number of longstanding yet continually evolving structural dynamics, such as poverty and inequality, migration and citizenship, racism and discrimination, and corporate responsibility and global supply chains.

York University, Toronto, Canada
Sun, 06/26/2011 - Tue, 06/28/2011