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‘Human trafficking’ represents a complex global concern plagued by definitional ambiguities, ideological disagreements, and the (un)intended harmful consequences of anti-trafficking measures. Despite well-established critical scholarship that exposes the ‘collateral damage’ caused by these measures, research funding continues to support top down research endeavours aimed at identifying, rescuing, sorting, labelling, classifying, and rehabilitating vulnerable people on the move. These colonial forms of research often justify harmful anti-trafficking measures; producing new measures that often neglect the experiences and perceptions of the targets of such interventions. Whilst it is recognised that anti-trafficking research carries a problematic political epistemology, researchers often argue that there is a need for more research on ‘trafficking victims’ or ‘survivors’. In this chapter, I caution against exclusive victim-centred research, which may deepen boundaries between deserving and undeserving subjects of knowledge and protection. To address this concern, I provide a detailed account in this chapter of an academic Participatory Action Research (PAR) conducted in a post-disaster Himalayan location in Nepal, often stigmatized as a ‘hotspot’ of human trafficking. This PAR engages with people considered as targets of anti-trafficking who are attempting to undo the stigma of trafficking attached to their place. In this chapter, I illustrate the messy sites, capturing tensions, failures, and emotionally charged moments that lead to disruptions during the research process. These disruptions raise questions about both the perception and translation of dense power relations and the significance of the knowledge produced amid multiplicity for everyone involved in the research process. Through this chapter, I advocate for an inclusive and situated approach to trafficking research that acknowledges the full spectrum of mobility and labour experiences, challenging dominant trafficking research that deepen boundaries between victims and non-victims.

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In the post-Brexit context increased attention is (correctly) being paid to the heightened risks of labour exploitation for EU migrants. The removal of free movement-facilitated access to the labour market, and the loss of associated social rights stemming from Union citizenship, contribute to the enhanced vulnerability of EU migrants to exploitative treatment. However, even under the auspices of the free movement framework, exploitation has been part of (some) EU migrants’ experiences in the UK labour market over many years. In particular, migrants from the Central and Eastern European (CEE) states that acceded to the EU in 2004 and 2007 have been more heavily concentrated in sectors of the labour market in which slippage along the continuum from poor treatment in employment to more severe forms of labour exploitation is more common. These migrants have had a higher visibility as victims of the types of exploitation deemed to constitute modern slavery than EU migrants from the older member states. This can be traced back to the way in which ‘free’ movement was extended to the new EU citizens at the time of EU enlargement. CEE accession migrants’ access to the labour market was conditioned on their willingness to carry out low-skilled roles to plug gaps in the (pre-2008 financial crash) labour market. The curtailed nature of the original access rights has ongoing implications for the treatment that migrants from the CEE accession states experience in the workplace. Moreover, the restrictive trajectory of immigration policy generally, and the move towards limiting support for those identified as victims of modern slavery specifically – encapsulated in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and Illegal Migration Act 2023 – offers little solace for the future to any migrants who experience exploitation in the UK.

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There is nothing new or uniquely modern about exploitation. Yet this idea of ‘newness’ continues to dominate, with numerous exploitative practices drawn under the elastic construct of modern slavery and/or human trafficking. The image on the front cover was therefore selected not simply because it is aesthetically appealing but also because the kaleidoscope represents how this interdisciplinary volume has been drawn together. A kaleidoscope is traditionally thought of as a toy ‘consisting of a tube containing mirrors and pieces of coloured glass or paper, whose reflections produce changing patterns that are visible through an eyehole when the tube is rotated’. This creation of constantly changing patterns or the sequence of objects and elements illustrates both the issue of modern slavery and its perceived ‘newness’. The contributors interrogate the construct of modern slavery and anti-trafficking discourse which have dominated contemporary responses to and understandings of exploitation. Through providing insights and evidence we need to continue navigating a different path – beyond the racialized legacy of anti-trafficking and fears of modern slavery

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Modern slavery is a contested and confusing issue. In recent years significant critiques have emerged of the mainstream approach that frames modern slavery as an individualized relationship linked to economic underdevelopment. This chapter addresses two such critiques: weak historicity and the lack of analysis of power relations, particularly the role of the state. This chapter applies the concept of ‘coloniality of power’ – which involves two interrelated processes of racialized categorization and the articulation of forms of labour control to produce commodities for the world market – to cases of exploitation in post-independence Latin America. The chapter draws on documentary and field research to analyse state responses to modern slavery in the guano and rubber sectors in Peru’s neocolonial state; and to the exploitation and abuse of Indigenous Guaraní in Bolivia’s ‘decolonizing’ state under the government of Evo Morales. The chapter finds a coloniality approach to have strong utility, focusing attention on overlooked interconnections between racialization, labour control, and global capitalism. It also reveals that, far from a simple enforcer of laws, the state’s role is ambiguous. While the Bolivian case provides some evidence that states can act to reduce vulnerability, more often they help to create the conditions for exploitation under the pretext of ‘development’. In both cases the state’s prioritization of capitalism saw it reproduce racialized divisions and deepen vulnerability. These findings call for a reorientation of modern slavery scholarship and practice towards critical engagement with colonial legacies, global capitalism, and the state.

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This chapter interrogates the knowledge production process embedded in global anti-trafficking policy initiatives, as reflected in the annual US Trafficking in Persons Report (hereafter, TIPR). Using the conceptual framework of coloniality, we undertake content analysis of the TIPRs 2001–20. We show that policy interventions are still central in imposing colonial frameworks of knowledge and interventions globally and locally. Three main findings emerge from the content analysis: first, the references to ‘Indigenous communities’ and ‘Indigenous victims’ have been amplified over time. Specifically, from 2003 onwards there is a gradual but clear trend towards more of these references appearing in each subsequent iteration of the Report. Thus, there is a shift from a state of silence towards both wider visibility and labelling Indigenous victims of trafficking as extremely vulnerable. Second, these references portray Indigenous communities and individuals in relation to human trafficking as either ‘at risk’, ‘at high risk’, ‘particularly vulnerable’, or ‘most vulnerable’. While Indigenous victimization is becoming more visible, in most instances the problem is framed as human traffickers preying on individual victims or on certain communities, rather than recognizing how the continuous impact of the colonial matrix of power (that is, coloniality) permeates Indigenous lives including their victimization. Third, there is a clear geographical clustering around the regions of Central Africa, Central and South America, and South East Asia, which reflects global imperial hierarchies of power. Based on our findings we argue that the reports are infused with colonial systems of thought, which inflict and reproduce epistemic violence and colonial relations of power locally and internationally.

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A growing body of research has been published examining the detection, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking crimes. Despite human trafficking being one of the most complex crimes to detect and investigate, police collaboration with partner agencies has been found to promote the prosecution of offenders and the safeguarding of victims. Nonetheless, discrepancies in the practice of police collaboration to investigate human trafficking exist in England and Wales. While multi-agency collaboration to respond to complex problems is a well-studied area, limited empirical knowledge exists on the practice of police collaboration during human trafficking investigations.

This chapter provides insight into the complexity of conducting human trafficking police investigations and police collaboration through a data-driven understanding of how police collaborations are undertaken in practice. Through the examination of two police human trafficking operations, this chapter provides both an understanding of the benefits of police collaboration and the challenges and limitations faced by the police when collaborating with other agencies. Data were gathered from interviews with lead investigators, police files, and other official documents, and analysed through thematic analysis between 2018 and 2020. Findings reveal the importance of police collaboration to ensure a victim-centred and intelligence-led approach, highlighting the critical role of non-government organizations in promoting victims’ engagement. Nevertheless, further research on police collaboration during human trafficking investigations is needed to better inform practice.

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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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This chapter argues that trafficking in women, or White slavery as then called, became understood as a legal issue at the turn of 20th-century England, and as a response attracted several legal, and certain criminal law, solutions. Drawing from the archival records of the National Vigilance Association and the International Abolitionist Federation in particular, the chapter examines how the certain civil society organizations gained and used the legal power during the period and the role that civil society action played in the legislative process. The first part of the chapter explores the emergence of language of victimhood, coercion, and social restraints in relation to the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts and how this impacted both legal and social framing of trafficking. The second part explores how social reform campaigners such as William Coote understood and spoke of law’s power and potential. Through this analysis, the chapter shows how tensions grew between different organizations and argues that as civil society centred legislative processes and anti-White slavery laws, openly feminist actors and agenda became sidelined from mainstream discussions. Ultimately, the chapter shows how White slavery transformed from a social to a legal issue in England, revealing profound disagreements about the potential and dangers of legal power amid social reform campaigners.

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In this reflective chapter, we examine the structural biases and empirical challenges underlying human trafficking ‘indicators’ (especially problem, risk, and performance indicators) that are routinely used to describe and measure human trafficking, assess risk, identify abuses, evaluate responses, and encourage accountability. While frequently used, such indicators can give an undue illusion of objectivity and reliability when they are neither neutral nor unskewed. In fact, numerous factors affect which elements are privileged as ‘indicators’ and which are obscured. We therefore examine here the selectivity, politics, and racialized and gendered concerns that relate to the production and use of human trafficking indicators. Since human trafficking is a complex, highly contested, and multi-faceted practice, it is not easily reduced to the crude generalizations upon which many indicators rest. We explore how the uncritical use of indicators can both contribute to stereotypical and unachievable ideals of victimhood and engender undue criminalization or withholding of victim support. In doing so, we disentangle some paradoxes around who is deemed ‘vulnerable’, ‘at risk’, ‘worthy of support’, and requiring ‘protection’. We highlight the – routinely overlooked – weak empirical basis and other limitations of many commonplace ‘indicators’ and challenges in building empirically stronger and more robust indicators. The chapter concludes with overall implications of these critical reflections for policy, interventions, and research.

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Empirical research on wartime abduction and sexual violence presents multiple challenges. Researchers travel to conflict contexts to speak with survivors yet accessing and engaging them is difficult. Many years of recovery may have already passed, or stigmatization may compel them to keep a low profile. Even after finding ways of accessing them, re-traumatization and research fatigue might make them, and their families, want to distance themselves from research projects. This chapter draws upon my fieldwork in Uganda, working with formerly abducted women and survivors of sexual violence. It reflects on experience working with these women and their communities to find an acceptable compromise between obtaining high-quality information, limiting the inherent risks involved with obtaining this data and reconciling with research ethics and practical challenges. The central argument is that research methods, ethics, and fieldwork practices need to be adapted in culturally and experientially sensitive ways to keep the survivors safe and the research on ethically solid ground. The chapter discusses the challenges and dilemmas of accessing and interacting with formerly abducted women and the layered effects of my positionality, privilege, and power.

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