It’s been a minute, and I’m very sorry about that. As is the case for everyone, I’ve had to be strict about what I prioritize for my own mental health and even though this blog is a wonderful outlet for me, I just couldn’t find the bandwidth for it. But I’ve had this post in mind for quite a while now, so I’m excited to finally get around to it!
This summer, I completed my capstone (in the form of a thesis paper) which argued for a decolonial reckoning for the international human trafficking regime. I won’t get into the details, but part of the argument was that “human trafficking” as a criminal phenomenon was simply a continuation of the “white slavery” criminal phenomenon (the latter a pretty well-established myth). Given that our conception of human trafficking has not departed all that convincingly from white slavery, we have a responsibility then to interrogate and dismantle the aspects of human trafficking that were forged on colonial (racist, sexist) assumptions.
There’s a lot more to it than just that; if you’re interested in reading my capstone, you can find it here (and the abstract at the bottom of the post). But the point of this post is this: I spent roughly three years researching human trafficking on and off, and it took me a long time to flesh out my view of the phenomenon (to the extent that it is one). The articles, books, organizations that follow shaped my views over those years. They deal with migration, labor, sex work, global public health, HIV/AIDs, gender and sexuality, performativity, femininity, race, and – of course – colonialism. Of course, I read several pieces of literature that reflect the “mainstream” thought on human trafficking, but those are much easier to find. I hope that progressive student researchers find this list helpful – and please do share other works that I haven’t noted below! I’m always amenable to further learning, and I know I’m far from done on this topic. I may also try to update this as I come across more material!
I truly hope this is helpful!
Note: “THB” is short for “trafficking in human beings.”
- Bernstein, Elizabeth. Brokered Subjects: Sex, Trafficking, and the Politics of Freedom. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.
- Essential critique of the neoliberal (i.e., dominant) approach to THB. Critiques target the abolitionist approach to trafficking in women which sees the sex industry/sex work as inherently oppressive and immoral, and posits the free market as the fix to human trafficking. I have some points of contention, but nonetheless, very good.
- Doezema, Jo. Sex Slaves and Discourse Masters: The Construction of Trafficking. London; New York: Zed Books; Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
- Oh, how I love this book. I get so much out of it every time I revisit it. Unabashedly sex worker-centered history of the white slavery/THB “myth” (which Doezema does such a good job defining for the purposes of this book). Everyone should read this.
- Gallagher, Anne. The International Law of Human Trafficking. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- This book doesn’t necessary take a stance per se, but the title should clue you into why this is an important book, particularly if you’re interested in the legal aspects underpinning the international human trafficking regime. Massive book, so I would really recommend figuring out exactly what you need and before you crack it open before bed. I’m sure your university library will have it.
- Kozma, Liat. Global Women, Colonial Ports: Prostitution in the Interwar Middle East. Albany: SUNY Press (State University of New York Press), 2017.
- Excellent, excellent, excellent. A must-read for anyone interested in global public health (venereal disease especially, or the fear thereof), colonialism (particularly French and British endeavors), migration, globalization and sex work – all within the context of the Middle East. The writing is very accessible.
- Mazower, Mark. Governing the World: The History of an Idea. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.
- Genuinely one of my favorite books ever. I loved it when I read it for a class in 2015; loved it even more five years later, largely because the genealogy of global governance provided lays bare a lot of the assumptions taken for granted in the creation of the current (neo)liberal internationalist world order.
- Revisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery, edited by Prabha Kotiswaran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Several articles within this are very helpful. In general, the book fleshes out a lot of the debates surrounding human trafficking – I relied heavily on Kotiswaran’s own chapter, Ahmed’s chapter, and Gallagher’s chapter.
Note: Just because of how many articles I’ve listed, I won’t provide an annotation for each. Sorry!!
- This is kind of a cop-out, but I’m going to say just read all of Aziza Ahmed‘s work. She is an expert on health law, criminal law, and human rights. Her work was incredibly instrumental to my writing, and her unabashed criticism of the neoliberal order is steeped in the real concerns of sex workers and other vulnerable communities.
- Chuang, Janie. “Exploitation Creep and the Unmaking of Human Trafficking Law.” The American Journal of International Law 108, no. 4 (October 2014): 609–49. https://doi.org/10.5305/amerjintelaw.108.4.0609.
- Janie Chuang’s article was the first critique of the prevailing thinking on human trafficking that I ever read, in 2017. It has been putting around in my brain since then, and for good reason. This article looks at the ways in which states (the US, in particular) have expanded their understanding of human trafficking as slavery and not merely potentially encompassing slavery. Great critique of the “3 Ps” approach (prevention, protection, prosecution).
- Davidson, Julia O’Connell. “Editorial: The Presence of the Past: Lessons of History for Anti- Trafficking Work.” Anti-Trafficking Review, no. 9 (September 2017). antitraffickingreview.org.
- Although this is an editorial note, it does a great job of synthesizing and projecting the historical context within which the issue of human trafficking emerged, including its colonial origins.
- Davidson, Julia O’Connell. “Troubling Freedom: Migration, Debt, and Modern Slavery.” Migration Studies 1, no. 2 (July 1, 2013): 176–95. https://doi.org/10.1093/migration/mns002.
- I read this article for a class, and I think it is instrumental in breaking down the agent/victim dichotomy that is taken for granted in THB discourse. It also sheds some light on how little (ostensible) “victims'” understandings of their own experiences are given credence.
- Chapman-Schmidt, Ben. “‘Sex Trafficking’ as Epistemic Violence.” Anti-Trafficking Review, no. 12 (April 2019): 172–84.
- Beautiful article criticizing the term “sex trafficking” itself, and how, by its very connotation, sex work (i.e., the trafficking – or trade! – in sex) is made abhorrent and criminal. There is no actual reference to exploitation in the term “sex trafficking;” the exploitation is taken for granted, thus marginalizing – and causing violence against – sex workers needlessly.
- Knepper, Paul. “The Investigation into the Traffic in Women by the League of Nations: Sociological Jurisprudence as an International Social Project.” Law and History Review 34, no. 1 (February 2016).
- Analysis of the processes through which alleged THB was “uncovered” during the League of Nations era.
- Lammasniemi, Laura. “Anti-White Slavery Legislation and Its Legacies in England.” Anti- Trafficking Review, no. 9 (September 21, 2017). https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.20121795.
- Exactly what it says on the tin. Great foundation for some of the more instrumental reasons underlying the creation of and subsequent criminalization of the “white slavery” phenomenon (again, to the extent it was one).
- Legg, Stephen. “‘The Life of Individuals as Well as of Nations’: International Law and the League of Nations’ Anti-Trafficking Governmentalities.” Leiden Journal of International Law 25, no. 3 (September 2012): 647–64. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0922156512000325.
- Lyndsey P. Beutin. “Black Suffering for/from Anti-Trafficking Advocacy.” Anti-Trafficking Review, no. 9 (September 2017). antitraffickingreview.org.
- If you read nothing else from this list, read this article. Black pain is instrumentalized after the fact; not least to cynically draw “attention” to the plight of THB victims using the language of “slavery” and abolition – to the service of racial capitalism.
- Mary G. Leary. “‘Modern Day Slavery’ – Implications of a Label.” St. Louis University Law Journal 60 (2016). http://ssrn.com/abstract=2705550.
- Pattanaik, Bandana. “Will Human Trafficking Increase during and after COVID-19?” The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, August 6, 2020. https://gaatw.org/blog/1059- will-human-trafficking-increase-during-and-after-covid-19.
- Spoiler: It doesn’t matter.
- Rodríguez García, Magaly. “The League of Nations and the Moral Recruitment of Women.” International Review of Social History 57, no. S20 (December 2012): 97–128. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020859012000442.
- Tambe, Ashwini. “Climate, Race Science and the Age of Consent in the League of Nations.” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 2 (March 2011): 109–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276410380942.
- A great look into colonial-era (social) scientific assumptions and how they colored THB negotiations/approaches to combating THB.
- Julia O’Connell Davidson. “Triple (e)X rating the trafficking protocol.” openDemocracy (December 10 2020). https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/beyond-trafficking-and-slavery/triple-ex-rating-trafficking-protocol/. [ADDED 12/14/2020]
International white slavery/THB regime instruments
Important note! These are not all the international treaties that reference human trafficking – they are just the ones specifically about human trafficking. I’ve omitted regional agreements.
- 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic
- 1910 International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic
- 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children
- 1933 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of the Full Age
- 1949 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
- 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
This will definitely be updated.
- The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) takes a migration and labor approach to THB. In doing so, it recognizes sex work as labor and centers (non-market based) human rights.
- GAATW publishes the Anti-Trafficking Review which is an essential open-access journal.
- Their Twitter is a great follow as well!
- Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) – Produce incredible policy briefs critiquing the “Nordic Model” of sex work decriminalization, as well as primers on pro-sex worker policy and advocacy. Really, really crucial voice.
- Sex Work Research Hub – exactly what it says on the tin!
- UNODC human trafficking case law database – somewhat limited, but still a great resource for case law analysis in different countries. Only as good as the states that contribute to it, of course.
The neat transition of the colonial-era “white slave traffic” regime into the trafficking in human beings (THB) regime has gone under-interrogated in international law scholarship. In seeking to correct for that gap, this paper makes three overarching arguments. First, multi-lateral instruments countering THB emerged out of colonial-era gender- and race-relations. Second, ambiguity was designed into the regime such that it entrenched systemic and epistemic violence towards sex trafficking “victims,” sex workers, and migrants. Third, a more nuanced approach to countering THB is needed in order to decolonize the “white slavery”/THB regime. This paper analyzes the genealogy of the “white slavery”/THB regime to conclude that for the regime to be effective while centering human dignity, 1) a radical reimagining of international law is required that identifies when the absence of law is most useful; 2) in the interim, a harm-reductionist, sex worker-led THB framework must be championed on the international stage; and, 3) international law must actively dismantle the imperial and colonial roots of many of its regimes in order to truly foment progressive global governance.