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Just deserts: victim compensation

Despite ample international, regional and local provisions for compensation, the provision of restitution for trafficked persons remains under-utilized. This undermines justice as well as potentially depriving much-needed financing for anti-trafficking efforts. A State’s focus on criminal prosecution may neglect important aspects of a victim-centered approach and without stringent, enforced penalties, may not even serve as an adequate deterrent. The former might include an emphasis on a victim as a key witness at trial, without taking into account livelihood concerns involved in an individual’s ability to participate (not being to generate an income, for instance). The latter may be expressed through the limited impact of the use of fines as punishment for those convicted for forced labor offences. For example, Paul Broadbent, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in the UK, highlighted:

We’d worked out the amount of money they’d made out of exploiting those people was way in excess of that fine […] so it’s actually worthwhile doing it on the off chance you’ll get caught, because when you do get caught and fined it’s absolutely a drop in the ocean compared with the money you’ve made. (more…)

The ROI on CSR

Concerns about workers’ safety in the garment industry have spurred collective protest against several deadly factory fires and the recent building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Subsequent responses from the Bangladeshi government, the international community and retailers highlight the difficulty in seeking accountability for tragedies which ensue from a failure to develop, implement and enforce measures that ensure employee protection.

Faced with warnings of “financial repercussions from consumers, damage to their stock value or sustained public protests if they do not adopt stricter garment manufacturing standards,” some global clothing retailers, such as the United Colors of Benetton, initially denied any role in factory production of their products. Walt Disney left Bangladesh completely after the November fire, discontinuing production of branded merchandise. Other companies directly affected by the most recent building collapse focused instead on compensation and long-term financial aid for victims. The marred reputation of garment production in Bangladesh has complicated corporate public relations even for companies, like H&M, not directly involved in the Rana Plaza collapse, but part of the industry. In response to concerns about the potential economic vacuum resulting from this swift corporate exodus, the Bangladeshi government closed several garment factories for inspection, opened the door for garment worker trade unions and is considering plans to increase the minimum wage in this industry. (more…)

Exploiting age: the risk of ignoring agency

In the shadow of recent child exploitation cases in the UK, policymakers have turned their attention to a spate of issues affecting vulnerable children, as Jeni Page highlighted in her post on children residing in state care homes. In conjunction, violence and exploitation experienced by teenagers is becoming more visible. Consideration has been given to an expanded definition of domestic violence, which now includes teenagers, in recognition of the types of partner violence they face, as well as the failings of the child protection system to older children. Recently, a High Court ruling, in HC (A Child,), R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin) (25 April 2013) addressed the practice of treating 17-year-old child suspects as adults in police stations. It also addressed the refusal by the Secretary of State to amend the relevant Police Code that enabled this treatment, despite the fact that such treatment is inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and s.11 of the Children Act 2004, which recognizes the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of those under 18.

Violence tends to be categorically experienced by children or adults, lacking an examination of the continuity of the experience of violence across age. But the problems of vulnerable children are not always clearly demarcated by age or type of abuse, complicating risk management and protection. Tension exists in distinguishing between children and adults, especially as this relates to their roles as victims and perpetrators. For instance, regarding the child protection system, the Education Select Committee reported, “childcare professionals needed to understand that a teenager could be a vulnerable ‘child in need’ just as much as a young child.” And, in recognizing the disconnect between child protection and immigration policies, “trafficked children found in criminal settings must always be treated as victims and children first, and not just as criminals”. (more…)

Tech Tonic

Digital activism is permeating the anti-trafficking field. In an effort to raise awareness among a broad audience, social media, online petitions and websites such as the Slavery Map (intended to document global instances of slavery) and Slavery Footprint are being created to educate and involve the public in discussions on human trafficking. The latter website, for instance, is an interactive quiz that evaluates the extent to which the participant may be complicit in human trafficking activities in everyday life. Unfortunately, while the website taps into the oft-ignored issue of supply chains, it is accompanied by a “dramatic commercial depicting modern day slavery” that arguably detracts from the message delivered through the quiz. Cue the sex trafficked women and the cameo by Abraham Lincoln.

In any case, other impressive sounding tools, such as crowdsourcing (asking for ideas or donations from a large group of people using Facebook, for example), digital mapping (compiling data to create a virtual image, like the Slavery Map above), natural language processing (enabling computers to derive information from, for instance, advertisements for sex) and facial recognition have collided with efforts to intercept human trafficking. (more…)

Minor practicalities: adolescents in the sex industry

The idea of adolescents working in the sex industry is not socially or politically palatable. In fact, under international law, prostitution is considered to be a form of severe exploitation for any individual under the age of 18 and constitutes one definition of child trafficking that does not necessitate the use of force, deception or coercion. There is widespread agreement that children should not participate in any form of sex work. As a result, older adolescents, those aged 16 and 17 who undertake sex work, usually fall into a policy black hole in which they lack access to much-needed services. This can be further compounded by instances in which an individual may work in an illegal industry (where sex work is illegal) and/or commit employment offenses (due to migration or age). (more…)