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Jul 17, 2018

In Episode 8, guest host Zoe Trodd, Director of The Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham interviews regular Rights Track host Todd Landman about taking a human rights approach to researching and tackling modern slavery. They reflect together on why this is important to their programme of research aiming to end modern slavery and on the important and insightful conversations that The Rights Track has had about the work in the Series to date.

00.00 – 05.40

Discussion around quantitative analysis and why it matters in the field of human rights and anti-slavery research. Todd points out that there are aspects of lives (attributes) which can be quantified and that this:

  • Adds precision to analysis
  • Allows comparison between groups of people at different scales and across countries
  • Allows researchers to explore the relationships between different attributes or variables leading to generalisations and predictions

Zoe then asks what this means for the relatively young field of modern slavery research. Todd agrees the field of modern slavery research is in its infancy, but points out that so is the use of quantitative methods in the field of Human Rights.

He points to an early work by Donald Greer in 1935 which mapped violence during the French Revolution and the work of Mitchell and McCormack, World Politics Vol 40 1988 as the first real attempt at applying quantitative methods to the study of Human Rights. He says the fields of Human Rights and Modern Slavery share certain characteristics:

  • They study hard to find victims and practices
  • They use the same models
  • They share the same sources of data

Note: the study of hard to find populations and practices has the potential for measurement error which requires caution when dealing with the data and analysing the results.

05.25 – 11.20

Zoe points out that the field of human rights dates back to the 18thcentury and the work of the anti-slavery abolitionists and yet there is very little co-ordination between different groups working in the field of modern slavery. She wonders what Todd’s thoughts are on a human rights approach to modern slavery:

  • For governments and NGO’s, who concentrate on a criminal justice approach
  • International labour organisations who focus on modern slavery as a labour rights issue
  • Now human rights has been seen as a development issue (see SDG 8 plus table)

Todd sees the study of modern slavery evolving in a similar way to human rights:

  • Developing precise definitions and measurements of modern slavery
  • Human Rights work on obligations of the state to protect rights could be applied to the prevention and detection of modern slavery
  • Will need to move away from the narrow focus on civil rights violations and to look at what governments can do to create the socio-economic conditions to stop people falling in to modern slavery
  • It needs to move away from a law-based focus and to engage with other disciplines for example, statistics, to see what they can add to understanding
  • Techniques that have been developed in the field of human rights can also be applied to modern slavery; for example; “the who did what to whom” model, and multiple systems estimations
  • Combining rigorous research with advocacy requires researchers to remain as objective as possible – this can be a challenge when you are also looking to change something e.g. abolish slavery

11.20 – 15.50

Discussion around defining what modern slavery really means. Todd says:

  • As with other aspects of human rights such as torture, definitions are contested – mentions the Handbook on Reporting Torture
  • Definitions of modern slavery should be neither too narrow nor too broad
  • We live in a world where traditional indicators property, control, and coercion are not as obvious

Todd suggests modern slavery is the intentional denial of  “agency” or freedom, and the task is to identify what the intentional denial of agency involves.

15.50 – 21.10

Slavery as a development issue. Todd points out that historically slavery provided an exploitable work force and was a tool for economic development. He adds:

  • Slaves are a cheap form of labour, but he argues that this can be a drag on economic and social development because labour is not used efficiently, modern slaves are not wage earners or tax payers
  • Liberation on its own is not enough - there needs to be strong financial support mechanisms otherwise people may fall back into slavery

 21.10 – 27.50

Todd’s thoughts on The Rights Lab - measuring progress on HOW their 4 main questions might be answered.

  1. How many slaves are there in the world?

This needs to involve use of:

  1. Why does slavery persist? Todd suggests three approaches/questions:
  • What are the economic conditions which cause people to fall into slavery?
  • What are the structural and institutional conditions, which allow people to fall into slavery?
  • What are the cultural circumstances, which lead to forms of slavery becoming normalised?
  1. What approaches to tackling slavery work? 
  • Map how many NGOs are working in this field and find out what they are doing
  • Look at the success or otherwise of individual projects and understand why they were successful and importantly why they were not
  • Compare different interventions and contexts to understand why they worked
  1. What is the freedom dividend?
  • Need to acknowledge there may not be one
  • Identifying and measuring what constitutes a freedom dividend is very difficult
  • The link between liberation and a dividend will be difficult to prove

Zoe mentions the business case for removing slavery from supply chains as a possible dividend in this respect 

27.50 - end

Todd is asked to reflect on his highlights of the first year of The Rights Lab. They include: 

  • The passion of the researchers and the contributors to the Rights Track podcast
  • The innovative ways of generating and analysing data
  • The Geospatial work, which has revolutionised data collection. All human activity leaves a trace including slavery, and using geospatial analysis potential slavery activities have been identified enabling NGOs to be alerted and slaves to be liberated.

Todd finishes by talking about what next for The Rights Track including planned discussions with stakeholders and beneficiaries of the research and ideas to take the podcast on the road to talk to non academic groups involved in the struggle to end modern slavery.

Further links and resources