5: The Ethics of Research into Human Trafficking Beyond ‘Do No Harm’: Developing a ‘Living’ Ethical Protocol

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Human trafficking has risen up the policy and legislative agendas of many countries during the past two decades following the UN Trafficking Protocol. Known forms of harm from anti-trafficking efforts have been described as ‘collateral damage’ – a term which describes the dangers of anti-trafficking measures having adverse impacts on the rights and freedoms of people. That these types of harms exist within work to protect people experiencing human trafficking is a key consideration when conducting research. This chapter looks at the ethics of conducting research into human trafficking and/or ‘modern slavery’. The chapter questions whether the principle of ‘do no harm’ is sufficient to guide researchers through these sometimes polemical and often contentious research environments. Given that power imbalances are built into responses to people who are trafficked, it is suggested that the concept of ‘harm’ be broadly interpreted from the outset of research. It is also suggested that social stigma, and the possibility that research might reify this, be understood within research processes and that the framing of trafficking research needs to include sensitivity towards regularly used negative terminology. To explore this, the chapter tracks the development of a ‘living’ Ethical Protocol developed for a two-year study looking at human trafficking from Albania, Nigeria, and Vietnam to the UK. Conceptual approaches, methodology, procedural ethics, existing ethical guidelines, ethics in practice, looking beyond the principle of ‘do no harm’, the context in which research takes place, and wider considerations of the use of research are then outlined.

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