What can we do about forced labour?
10 January 2018
Neil Howard (UAntwerp) and other researchers from Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, an organisation that studies labour exploitation, are proposing new policy interventions to tackle previously unaddressed root causes of exploitative work conditions.
Departing from mainstream policy discussions around forced labour, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery (BTS), in partnership with the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI), is releasing a report titled ‘Confronting Root Causes: Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains’.
The report will be released on 10 January, and offers compelling evidence based on empirical and high-level analysis that current global labour initiatives are not addressing the root causes of forced labour in transnational supply chains.
“This report shows is about connecting the dots in the chain of of causality,” says Neil Howard, U Antwerpen Fellow and one of the report’s authors. “It is about situating exploitative and abusive labour relations within their structural contexts, making clear which system-wide forces and system-influencing actors are responsible”.
Millions are spent
Globalisation's promise was to pull people out of poverty by integrating them into the world market and offering them decent work. It hasn't delivered. Today, hundreds of millions of people are unemployed; more than 75% of the global workforce is on temporary or informal contracts; the ranks of the working poor are expanding daily; the provision of social and labour protection has been reduced; migrant rights are under threat; and exploitative as well as forced labour appear endemic in a number of industries. What is worse, many of the policy efforts aiming to address these problems don’t seem to be working.
The report’s introduction states, “millions are spent every year on efforts to prevent forced labour. Yet that expenditure often amounts to little, since most policymakers and activists lack a comprehensive theory to guide their actions.” What, therefore, is to be done?
Using the classic metaphor of supply and demand, this 12-part report provides policymakers, journalists, scholars and activists with a roadmap for understanding the political economy of forced labour in today’s ‘global value chain (GVC) world’. On the supply side, they look at four dynamics that contribute to creating a pool of workers vulnerable to exploitation: poverty, discrimination, absent labour protections and restrictive migration regimes. And on the demand, they look at the concentration of corporate power, outsourcing, irresponsible sourcing practices and governance gaps.
Unveil the causes
With the hope of sparking a conversation that will help policy and activism address previous failings and confront the root causes of severe labour exploitation, BTS has drawn together existing research on the political economy of forced labour in GVCs to provide an overview of its root causes. Their source material has been gathered from across a range of academic disciplines and includes country and industry-specific cases, ethnographic investigations, statistical studies and relevant non-academic data.
Beyond Trafficking and Slavery is a research collective that seeks to help those trying to understand forced labour, trafficking and slavery. Their goal is to use evidence-based advocacy to unveil the structural political, economic, and social root causes of global exploitation.
SPERI is an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Sheffield that aims to bring together leading international researchers, policy-makers, journalists and opinion formers to develop new ways of thinking about the economic and political challenges posed for the world.