In the past 15 years, sex trafficking has gained tremendous media exposure and triggered a global abolitionist movement directed by an unlikely coalition of American Evangelical Christians and Radical Feminists (Bernstein 2007, 2010). One of the unfortunate consequences of this attention is that labor migration for sexual commerce is increasingly depicted as sex trafficking and women’s unregulated movement across borders is interpreted as sexual and economic exploitation, human trafficking, and even criminal conduct by mainstream media and governmental institutions. The human trafficking definitions employed by the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and its counterpart issued by the United States Congress, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, support a politically conservative agenda on migration and trafficking in human beings, with patriarchal emphasis placed on women and children. This has enabled the rev …
Barbara Linder, Julia Planitzer, Astrid Steinkellner (2014): Corporate Social Responsibility to Prevent Human Trafficking The Construction Sector in Austria – A Mapping, ILO.
Full study available here.
NIck Mai (2011): In Whose Name? Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking Presentation of the findings of the ‘Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry, ESRC.
• The majority of the migrant workers in the UK sex industry we interviewed were not forced or trafficked
• Immigration status is by far the single most important factor restricting their ability to exercise their rights in their professional and private lives
• Working in the sex industry is often a way for those interviewed to avoid the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs
• By working in the sex industry, many interviewees are able to maintain dignified living standards in the UK while dramatically improving the living conditions of their families in the country of origin
• The stigmatisation of sex work is the main problem interviewees experienced while working in the sex industry and this impacts negatively on both their private and professional lives
• The combination of the stigmatisation of sex work and lack of legal immigration documentation makes interviewees more vulnerable to violence and abuse
Relations between sex workers and clients are described as generallymutually consensual and respectful, although some reported problematic clients who were disrespectful, aggressive or abusive
• The impossibility of guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to victims of trafficking undermines the efforts of the Police and other authorities against criminal organisations
• Most interviewees feel that the criminalisation of clients will not reduce demand or exploitation in the sex industry and that it will be pushed underground, making it more difficult for migrants working in
the UK sex industry to assert their rights in relation to both clients and employers
• All interviewees thought that legalising sex work and the people involved and making it easier for all migrants to become and remain documented would improve their living and working conditions and enable them to exercise their rights more fully
“This article is concerned with the role of debt in contemporary practices of mobility. It explores how the phenomenon of debt-financed migration disturbs the trafficking/smuggling, illegal/legal, and forced/voluntary dyads that are widely used to make sense of migration and troubles the liberal construction of ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ as oppositional categories. The research literature reveals that while debt can lock migrants into highly asymmetrical, personalistic, and often violent relations of power and dependency sometimes for several years, it is also a means by which many seek to extend and secure their future freedoms. Financing migration through debt can be an active choice without also being a ‘voluntary’ or ‘autonomous’ choice, and migrants’ decisions to take on debts that will imply heavy restrictions on their freedom are taken in the context of migration and other policies that severely constrain their alternatives. Vulnerability to abuse and exploitation is also politically constructed, and even migrant-debtors whose movement is state sanctioned often lack protections both as workers and as debtors. Indeed, large numbers of migrants are excluded from the rights and freedoms that in theory constitute the opposite of slavery. As argued in the conclusion, this illustrates the contemporary relevance of Losurdo’s historical account of the fundamentally illiberal realities of self-conceived liberal societies. There remain ‘exclusion clauses’ in the social contract that supposedly affords universal equality and freedom, clauses that are of enormous consequence for many groups of migrants, and that also deleteriously affect those citizens who are poor and/or otherwise marginalized.“
Quirk, Joel (2008): Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery.
The history of slavery raises many uncomfortable political and moral questions. Until relatively recently, legal enslavement was widely regarded as a natural and all but inescapable feature of human existence, which appears to have been sanctioned, in one form or another, by every major civilization and religion. The key break with this enduring precedent occurred in the second half of the eighteenth century, with the emergence of an organized anti-slavery movement in some parts of Europe and the Americas. This fledgling movement would face tremendous political and economic obstacles. From the sixteenth century
onwards, European traders had been supplying colonial settlements in the Americas with ever increasing numbers of…