Pontifical scholar calls for action on slavery

The UK’s draft Modern Slavery Bill is insufficient, sociologist Margaret Archer argues

October 16, 2014

Source: PA

Of human bondage: criminal traffickers can move profits across borders as easily as they move people, scholar observes

A leading sociologist recruited by the Pope to campaign on people trafficking has told a student society that the coalition government’s Modern Slavery Bill needs to go much further in its bid to tackle the problem.

Margaret Archer, who was appointed president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in April and is also emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, said the bill “criminalises” the acts of the traffickers, but needs to do more for the victims. If the needs of the trafficked are not addressed, she said, they become “nothing other than witnesses”.

“I know there are some aspects of the current bill that are a bit better than that,” said Professor Archer. “For example, there is talk about compensating the victims of trafficking from the money that is sequestered from the traffickers. But these are multinational entrepreneurs; they’re cyber-smart – they can’t just move people, they can move cash. This is what they do, from country to country.

“In any case, should we stop at thinking a crime against humanity can be compensated for in cash terms? It’s like these awful awards that are made in courts: you have lost your father, so we’ll give you £15,000. There is no table for equivalence. So what do we do?”

Professor Archer was speaking earlier this month at the launch of the Soas, University of London, Catholic Society’s #StopSlavery project, which aims “to educate university students about the realities of modern slavery”.

In her work at the Pontifical Academy, Professor Archer is, she said, pursuing the “what next” agenda, starting with persuading the United Nations to make action against human trafficking part of the UN’s sustainable Millennium Development Goals.

She said that if this is successful, there are “three Rs” that the academy wants to see built into new international guidance on the issue: repatriation, resettlement and reduction of demand.

“The first one would be an absence of repatriation,” she said. “We want a fully legal pathway, such that it will be possible [for trafficked people] to get a permit to stay and become a legal immigrant – not an asylum seeker – with a passport. For me [automatic repatriation is] another form of trafficking – political trafficking.”

She added that trafficked people “don’t know their rights [or] local languages; some of them don’t even know what country they’re in”. Therefore, there must be “resettlement programmes” to help victims adapt in the country they have been moved to.

Professor Archer said that another question that legislators need to answer is “what about the demand that sustains this market?”

“We have seen that it is possible to change what looked like really deep-seated habits – smoking, drink-driving, unhealthy lifestyles of various kinds,” she noted. “What we haven’t seen any attempt to do whatsoever is…reduc[ing] the demand for forced labour and prostitution.”

This is, she said, “the big unanswered question for the social sciences: how can we make demand shameful? We haven’t cracked it yet.”


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