Examining the relevance of the modern slavery and human trafficking discourse

This post is written by Hannah Furukawa, Project Administrator for the ‘Chains’ project and MA Migration and Global Development student. 

In recent years the term ‘modern slavery’ has been widely used to describe practices such as forced labour, forced or servile marriage, the sale and exploitation of children, and debt bondage. The aim to eradicate forced labour and end modern slavery and human trafficking is set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Target 8.7). However, the discourse around modern slavery often uses simplistic binaries of those who are ‘free’ and those who are ‘enslaved’. At the same time, it demonises any intermediaries who are involved in facilitating migration, labelling them as traffickers. New research led by Dr Priya Deshingkar unsettles the dominant discourse on modern slavery by illuminating the infrastructure of brokerage and giving voice to migrants’ own experiences and how they view the process. At a conference last week, outcomes of the research were shared with academics, experts and policy makers, leading to interesting discussions on what the implications for policy and programming might be.

Dr Priya Deshingkar, Global Studies, presenting at the British Academy, London.  Photo credit: Summer Dean

Research in Ghana and Myanmar

Professor Joseph Teye and Professor Mariama Awumbila, University of Ghana, present their findings. Photo credit: Summer Dean

The collaborative project between the University of Sussex, the University of Ghana and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Myanmar conducted over 200 in-depth interviews with aspiring, current and returned migrants as well as brokers and other stakeholders. Both Ghana and Myanmar do not make the top grade of 1 in the US Government’s Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) as they are seen to be wanting in actions to control trafficking. In Ghana two main routes were considered, up towards North Africa and towards the Gulf states, whilst in Myanmar the focus was on migration towards Thailand and Singapore. The research focused on the movement for construction work and domestic work. Both are highly gendered due to cultural and ideological norms and both have many characteristics of modern slavery.

Motivations for migration

In both countries it emerged that reasons for leaving were a sense of frustration and hopelessness with the situations in the home towns and villages, as well as the desire to improve social standing and financial opportunities. Migration is often viewed as a ‘rite of passage’, especially for young men, and in Ghana those who have migrated may improve their chances of marriage upon their return. In line with other research, these findings however challenge the idea that poverty makes people move: migration is a costly process, therefore it is not the ‘poorest of the poor’ who move if they are paying fees upfront. Debt-migrants may be extremely poor.

The role of brokers

Brokers were used at every stage of the migration process and range from formal agencies to informal networks of family and friends. Though some brokers may be ‘in it for the money’, others view themselves as benevolent enablers of migration. Migrants themselves also often see brokers as vital intermediaries who help them with their journeys. Those who migrated from Mon State in Myanmar to Thailand for example, expressed that brokers made them feel safer during journeys. That is not to say that migrants do not then find themselves in exploitative situations. Women moving from Myanmar to Singapore were found to be highly controlled throughout the migration process experiencing physical confinement and having their passports withheld. Debt bondage was also encountered whereby migrants had to work for around 7 months with no wages in order to repay the costs of migration. In some cases where migrants found themselves in unbearable working conditions, brokers were again contacted to help them find alternative positions. The complex role of brokers therefore requires a more nuanced understanding.

Alex Ma, Myanmar Researcher                        Kitty Van Geloof representing IOM Myanmar

Migrant agency

Popular discourse on modern slavery and trafficking often denies migrants any agency. Yet the temporal aspect of how migrants view their experiences reveals that they do weigh up the risks and benefits of migration. Many who have experienced exploitation, once returned home, will choose to re-migrate. Shorter-term sacrifices and exploitative working conditions are chosen over the option of remaining at home; longer-term benefits are considered to be worth the risk and sacrifice. Thus migrants are shown to exercise agency, albeit in highly constrained circumstances.

What government policies often fail to understand is that restricting migration for this kind of work will not stop people’s desire to move and improve their life chances. Both Ghana and Myanmar at different points have banned migration for domestic work, yet rather than stopping movement, this results in longer and more expensive journeys, pushing people further under the radar. Restrictive migration policies often tie workers to employers and limit the length of their stay. This leads to migrants choosing to remain irregular and in informal work. In these circumstances workers may experience exploitative conditions and increased vulnerability.

Policy implications

At the conference academics and policy makers discussed the lack of definitional clarity over the term ‘modern slavery’ and agreed that consensus is needed in order for policies to be developed and to create political and public will. Allowing people the opportunity to experience the positive benefits of migration whilst reducing exploitative conditions is desirable. How can this be done? Conversations arose about providing legal pathways for migrants, regulating brokers and making services more accessible.

Rob Whitby, Head of DFID Migration Policy Team; Ursula Antwi–Boasiako, Head of DFID Modern Slavery Team; and Jennifer Dew, Lead in Migrant Protection and Assistance at IOM consider the research implications. Photo credit: Summer Dean

Recommendations from the research include the need to carry out participatory research in order to better understand the lived realities of people affected by aspects of ‘modern slavery’ and to recognise what is important for them and how things can be improved from their perspectives. Similarly, migrants themselves and not just those who purport to represent them should be involved in the design of interventions; ways need to be found to reach them as they are often invisible, extremely busy and scared of authorities. Finally, endogenous protection (existing informal systems of support for migrants by migrants) can be built upon by policy makers.

For more information see: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/global/research/researchprojects/chains

Posted in Uncategorized

Should we be combatting sexism to stimulate economic growth?

Christine Lagarde at a meeting in Brazil.

This post was originally written for ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ by Meenakshi Krishnan of IDS and  Prof. Ben Selwyn of Sussex Global. We include it here as the debut post in March’s ‘Experiences in Diversity’ theme. 

In the run-up to International Women’s Day, it was good to see Christine Lagarde highlight the problems of sexism in the global economy. Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2011, argues that combatting sexism and bringing more women into the workplace could raise economic growth in some countries by as much as 35%. Greater gender empowerment through changes in state laws and tax accounting contributes to ‘higher growth, a reduction in inequality, an improvement in the strength of the economy and a more diversified, export-focused country’.

Women are now living longer than men in all parts of the world. Over half a billion women have joined the world’s labour force over the last 30 years, and gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries. But there’s still a long way to go.

Lagarde’s emphasis on combatting sexism is a welcome intervention in public debates. It is refreshing compared to the world’s most powerful politician’s attitudes to women. Yet her message is surprisingly narrow, and in some ways contributes to reproducing sexist attitudes; moreover, there is no sense of where the resources to combat sexism will come from. She is not arguing that the IMF, or World Bank, or core economy states should finance the worldwide re-education of men and boys in feminist principles. Of course, changes to the law are necessary. But so too is an extensive roll-out of pro-women education. This would cost money, and since the 2008 world economic crisis, many states across the global south have economised on their social spending.

There is an element here of shifting the task of gender equality onto states with limited resources, rather than identifying potential sources of funds from which to underpin more far-reaching transformations. Such funds do exist, and could be accessed by just and effective taxation of trans-national corporations.

Read also Cécile Andrzejewski, “Women do the heavy lifting”, Le Monde diplomatique, January 2018.

The strategy of combatting sexism to boost economic growth seeks modifications to, rather than a transformation of, a system that is itself rooted in fundamental gender inequality. It is an excellent example of gender mainstreaming. On the one hand, it incorporates into public discourse previously radical demands for equality by women’s movements; on the other, it makes these demands compatible with prevailing economic relations — in particular those associated with industrialisation and economic growth. This is so in at least three ways.

First, the burden of familial care — which is mostly unpaid and predominantly carried out by women — contributes to gender inequalities across all spheres of society. Lagarde does not acknowledge that it represents a mega subsidy to the global economy. In fact, the value of women’s unpaid care work is estimated at $10 trillion — 43 times the annual turnover of Apple. The world’s expanding labour force is, in part, a product of this vast quantity of unpaid reproductive work.

Secondly, the IMF’s economic stabilisation programmes have contributed to the worsening of women’s conditions in many indebted countries. Across Latin America between the 1980s and 2000s, women played the role of ‘shock absorbers’ of neoliberal restructuring, by undertaking more low paid work and unpaid domestic work. Increasing numbers of women entered formal and informal labour markets in response to falling real incomes of male workers combined with cuts to social welfare provision.

Thirdly, much of women’s work across the global south occurs within a dynamic of immiserating growth — where economic gains for a small minority are predicated upon workers’ privation. From the garment factories producing Spice Girls T-shirts where women earn 35 pence an hour, to much of the global food supply chain, to electronics assembly factories across Asia, women workers’ wages are often insufficient to maintain themselves and their families. They resort to various strategies — from extensive and health-damaging overtime, to taking on other jobs or relying upon extended families or producing their own food — all to make ends meet for their families.

In the context of widespread political prejudice, Christine Lagarde’s arguments about the need to combat sexism are important. But they conceal as much as they reveal. They seek to adjust, rather than fundamentally transform a world economy rooted in gender discrimination. The kinds of transformations generating real gender equality and women’s empowerment require much greater shifts in wealth and power towards the working women of the world.

Meenakshi Krishnan is a doctoral researcher at Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, and works on issues of women’s workforce participation, unpaid care work, family friendly work policies and social protection. Benjamin Selwyn is professor of International Development in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and author of The Struggle for Development (Wiley, 2017).

Posted in Uncategorized

“Beyond Plant-Based Diets for Climate Action: The Urgency to Transform Agricultural Systems”

This entry is the latest in our February 2019 “Food and Culture” series. This post is written by Emily Bohobo N’Dombaxe Dola , final year student in International Development.

In October last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15), which showed that a target of 1.5°C  in temperature increase above pre-industrial levels is not only attainable, but also significantly less devastating for ecosystems than a 2OC temperature increase. The findings were met with significant consideration, alarm and scrutiny. A key issue widely discussed as a result was the need for a shift in dietary habits towards plant-based diets, to support   climate change mitigation efforts. It is estimated that agriculture contributes to around 10-12% of global anthropogenic greenhouse emissions, most of it coming from livestock.

Whilst it is important to reflect on the impact of our lifestyle on climate change, there is also a need to be nuanced. Plant-based eating can’t be appropriately considered as a solution without first addressing the system our food consumption is embedded in. The agricultural industry is questionable beyond its livestock sector. For instance, the mass productions of soy, a popular meat-alternative, has often been criticised due to its role in deforestation, soil erosion, and land grabbing. Hence, when discussing climate change and agriculture, it is essential to include a need for alternative and sustainable production practices, such as agroecology.

On December last year, I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) COP24 in Katowice, as parties worked on the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement. I was there as an observer, part of a UK youth climate organisation.  I was also involved with the agriculture working group of YOUNGO (the Youth NGOs constituency to the UNFCC), composed of young people from all over the world. Our work was centred around the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), the main vehicle within the UNFCCC/COP to discuss agriculture.

Doing an observer intervention to speak about YOUNGO’s Agriculture Working Group input/vision during a KJWA workshop at COP24, I’m on the far end of the table. Credits to Julia Waeger.

A main concern for the group was  the climate, environmental and social impact of the dominant agricultural system, especially in relation to agro-corporations and mass-intensive production. Whilst we advocated for plant-based diets and other changes in lifestyle (e.g. waste reduction), we believed that changing consumption without transforming production is not enough. Even if the livestock industry is to be downsized, as part of a just transition, there is still a need for sustainable production alternatives. We also stressed how the livelihoods and way of life of small-scale farmers are equally threatened by climate change, with a mutual relationship between both areas.

My stance on this issue, reflected above, isn’t just informed by my involvement in climate activism or by my studies at Sussex, but also by experiences such as my one-month open residency in Senegal. Though the residency was with an arts organisation in the city of Saint-Louis, I did more than artistic work. I conducted my own research-oriented project and, as part of it, I participated in activities about    the history, society and environment of the Saint-Louis region. One of them was a visit to Doune Baba Dieye, ‘the Sunken Village’.

Backstory on Doune Baba Dieye, extracted from my personal blog.
A picture of the environment where the disaster occurred area. 

Through a boat expedition led by Doune Baba Dieye’s village chief, I learnt about the effects of the flooding disaster, how lands were slowly reversing, and how locals were making the area habitable again through their traditional ecology and sustainable practices. When the sunken lands started to re-surge, tree-planting became key to prevent further coastal erosion. Additionally, by planting specific species that help with desalinization, through their natural filtration properties, locals made sustainable organic orchards in the reappearing islets, growing vegetables like cabbage, watermelon and potatoes. ‘Artificial’ islets had  also been created, for migratory birds. Unfortunately, many flora and fauna species were unable to adapt to the mix between freshwater and seawater as a result of the disaster.

Different stages of tree planting captured, each of them in different islets across the area. 
Orchards on one of the islets.
On the left: an example of a plant used to help with issues such as coastal erosion and salinization. On the right: an example of vegetables grown on the orchards. Pictures by myself.

The above case is not a unique one. Indeed, locals in Doune Baba Dieye had even shared their knowledge and practices with Dutch visitors who were suffering from similar environmental issues in the Netherlands. The effects of climate change, such as extreme weather conditions, are not as distant as often portrayed: they have already affected many communities globally. Therefore, moving towards sustainable agriculture isn’t just a “green choice”: it is a way to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Besides, practices such as agroecology have the potential to reduce greenhouse emissions. It is no surprise that organisations like the Alliance for Food Sovereignty Africa (AFSA) have pushed for organisms like the African Union to scale-up agroecology initiatives, in light of commitments to sustainable production and climate-resilient systems.

The SP15 sparked important conversations. However, there is a need to go beyond lifestyle changes. It is not enough to promote plant-based diets if the production that upholds them also degrades the environment and harms communities. Truth be told, not even focusing on agricultural production is enough: other issues need to be considered, such as international trade and the advertisement industry. Moreover, it can’t be ignored how agriculture is both the livelihood and way of living of many people across the world. Ultimately, there is a need for transformational climate action. As it was chanted by activists during an action/protest at COP24, we need system change, not climate change.

Posted in Uncategorized

Stop Wasting Food: Alarming Facts About Food Waste

Image taken from FareShare Sussex: https://fareshare.org.uk/fareshare-centres/sussex/

This entry is the latest in our February 2019 “Food and Culture” series. This post is written by Anna Maukner, 2nd year student in International Development and Anthropology.

Every year 1.9 million tonnes of food are thrown away in the UK alone with 250, 000 tonnes still being edible. Meanwhile, 1 in 8 people suffer from hunger. Food is not just an important issue in the Global South, problems of food waste and simultaneous lack of food for whole groups of the population can be found right in front of our doorstep. The UN has calculated that if food waste was a country it would have the third highest carbon footprint after China and the US[. This is clearly a pressing issue which goes hand in hand with climate change. However, instead of recognizing this and becoming proactive, governments in Europe enforce laws and policies which aggravate the fight against food waste and hunger.

Alarming facts about food waste

  • Over one third of all food produced globally goes to waste.
  • UK households waste around 20% of all the food they buy.
  • There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted just by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them.
  • On average, a UK family loses 800 pounds on wasted food a year. Collectively, this comes to 15 billion pounds per year.
  • 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten. [

To me, it seems like this is an issue that can be solved, and I can’t wrap my head around how in one of the wealthiest countries this problem still persists. Globally, countries need to work together to tackle the root causes of the issue. In the UK a lot of the food that should go to hungry people is used for anaerobic digestion (AD) instead. France has put in place laws that prohibit supermarkets from throwing out unsold food, punishing them with fines of up to €75,000 if they refused to donate it to food banks or charities instead. [As much as this is a political issue and governments as well as corporations need to be held accountable there are things you can do as an individual.


Image taken from FareShare Sussex: https://fareshare.org.uk/fareshare-centres/sussex/

FareShare is a national charity redistributing surplus food from suppliers to vulnerable people in need. With local branches all around the country, including one in Brighton just off Moulsecoombe Way, FareShare fights hunger and tackles food waste. I have volunteered at the FareShare Sussex local office for the past year and have witnessed the incredible work they do every day supplying over 120 local charities with food. They are always looking for more volunteers, so if you’re interested sign up now.

Food Waste Café on campus

At the University of Sussex sustainability and the climate are a priority to many students. A group of students under the lead of Society and Citizenship officer Aisling Murray has set up a Food Waste Café. Using food that would have otherwise been thrown in the bin we turn it in to delicious meals and sell it on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis. Come to Bramber House on the 27th February with your reusable dish to save some food and get a tasty meal freshly prepared by lovely student volunteers.

Other ways you can tackle food waste

Image taken from FareShare Sussex: https://fareshare.org.uk/fareshare-centres/sussex/
Posted in Uncategorized

Can Farm-to-Table Restaurants Take on The Industrialized Food System?

This entry launches our new “Topics Affecting Our Community” series of thematic blog posts around issues impacting us at Sussex Global. This is the first post for February’s theme: Food and Culture. It is written by Anna Montanari, 3rd year student in International Development and Anthropology. 

It is common to walk around, especially for those of us who live in Brighton, and see restaurants that display their choice of quality, tasty and unprocessed food. Their menus feature the local source of ingredients highlighting that vegetables are sustainable and organic, the chicken is grass-fed and the eggs are free-range. Farm-to-table restaurants have become powerful symbols for protests against a globalised and industrialised food system, and chefs play a key role in promoting sustainable production and consumption, and in bridging the gap between producers and consumers.

Mission statement of Silo, a restaurant in Brighton. Photo credit: Mike Gibson (https://foodism.co.uk/features/dan-barber-farm-to-table-whole-farm-dining/ )

This worldwide trend of paying particular attention to quality, provenance of food and advocating for a closer relationship between food producers and consumers is particularly well-received among the majority of chefs across US.

It appears quite controversial since few large agribusinesses and transnational corporations have controlled the US market and concentrated a great economic power, while small non-competitive producers have been forced out of business. Other alienated producers have provided bulk commodities, which have been exchanged in national and global markets and sold below the cost of production in supermarkets. American consumers, who do not know the basic details of their food production, have been dependent on imported products and highly processed standardised fast food.

Far more than controversial, since the counter-cuisine of the 1960s and 1970s, some chefs have opposed and found solutions to the environmental and socio-economic problems of the agro-industrial food system by creating alternative markets, choosing to buy from local farmers and give their customers access to non-toxic nutritious meals.

In my Anthropology of Food’s dissertation, I analysed American chefs’ limitations on promoting alternative food in terms of an opposition and the contradictions in advocating for a reconnection between producers and consumers. I approached this in terms of two questions: do chefs’ strategies have a revolutionary potential to challenge the American industrialised food system? Are American chefs driven by self-interest or are they activists dedicated to a broader agenda? I argued that, even though food system ‘localisation’ could be a strategic pathway and have a transformative potential, chefs are neoliberal subjectivities who are driven by self-interest and use strategies of the neoliberal economy without challenging the conventional value chain.

Farm-to-table chefs’ strategies:

  • Intimate relationships with farmers

Matt G., a chef from Tennessee, illustrates how interacting and forging an intimate relationship with producers at the local market are important aspects. When chefs treat farmers respectfully and appropriately, they receive great ingredients that enable them to cook successful meals in their restaurants. If guests like a dish, they will know where to find the best ingredients.

Dan Barber and his team at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Photo Credit: Dan Etherington (https://breadcakesandale.wordpress.com)
  • Food stories

Through waiters, chefs give a story to their customers in order to make them aware of the importance of supporting farmers and their sustainable practices. For example, Dan Barber, who is the executive chef and co-owner of the top-tier restaurants Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, spends a lot of his time acquainting the waiters with the story behind every item on the menu. When customers know about the origins of the food on their plate, they can appreciate it more and, eventually, change their eating habits.

  • Alternative markets

Mikey Azzara’s Zone 7, which is a New Jersey’s growing zone and distributor of high quality products from organic and sustainable farmers in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, represents a great opportunity for both chefs and producers. Since Mikey Azzara has founded Zone 7 in 2008, the aim is to create an alternative market for farmers as an attempt to decrease the number of steps between farmers and consumers and support small organic farms, while chefs can have access to quality produce.

Both through stories and connections with farmers, farm-to-table chefs aim to reconfigure a dynamic totality, which is key to establish a sense of belonging and inclusivity, transcend the alienation and displacement of the industrialised food system, and ultimately take political action against the industrialised food system.

Articulating a critique:

  • Federal regulations and neoliberal policies of free market might put pressure on farmers. Moreover, once chefs understand that sustainability is an important element of quality and success for their meals, they cherry-pick the best ingredients in the farm, therefore forcing farmers to grow expensive and ecologically demanding products. Chefs’ quest for flavour and search for variety might put further demand on small farmers.

It is evident that alternative markets are not absent of unequal power relations.

  • Selling local and organic produce directly to restaurants is a way of doing business and mimics other forms of distribution provided by larger national distributors.
  • Teaching people about provenance is not just good for local farmers but beneficial for the restaurant’s profit. It is a strategy to create a positive image and attract tourists, media and customers to return to the restaurant.
  • Through food stories, chefs often singularise their ingredients by emphasising on the effort and energy that farmers invest in sustainable practices, the skills of growers to produce better quality products, and their intimate relations with farmers, turning local products into expensive commodities and therefore generating a profitable income.
Posted in Anthropology, Nature, Uncategorized