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Expanding Circles of Failure: The Rise of Bad Anti-Trafficking, and What to Do About It

Mendel, Jonathan; Sharapov, Kiril


Jonathan Mendel


The anti-trafficking movement has been able to expand and impact on ever-broader circles of life in spite of – and often because of – a failure to achieve its stated goals. These goals are broadly encapsulated within the much-lauded 4P ‘anti-trafficking paradigm’ – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership – which, in turn, responds to the ‘master-narrative’ of human trafficking: the belief that ‘Trafficking in persons is on the rise, and it depends largely on legal shortcomings and thus demands the strengthening of laws and support for NGOs’ (Lindquist 2013: 320). Within these broad parameters, the whole anti-trafficking eco-system or, as some (Kapur 2017, Agustin 2008, Kempadoo 2015) argue, ‘industry’ has continued to grow: anti-trafficking ‘researcher-evaluator-consultants’ gain currency by making sensationalist statements based on anecdote and misinformation rather than evidence, linking human trafficking to terrorism, money-laundering, ISIS, Boko Haram and, recently, QAnon, and offering anti-trafficking workshops, trainings, accreditations and certificates.

With that in mind this article will discuss some examples of this expansion, focussing on ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking, including ineffective awareness-raising, poor-quality anti-trafficking apps, and harmful enforcement action. We call for two responses to this: firstly, a defunding of the anti-trafficking industry (alongside investment in more effective responses to trafficking and exploitation); secondly, where an anti-trafficking approach is the best option (as opposed to, for example, a focus on workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, or wealth redistribution), there should be more critical appraisal of which approaches work, and which do not.

Digital Artefact Type Website Content
Online Publication Date Nov 18, 2021
Publication Date Nov 18, 2021
Deposit Date Nov 30, 2021
Keywords human trafficking, modern slavery, migration, enforcement, policy, defunding, humanitarianism
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