Conference proceedings

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

e.a.faulkner@hull.ac.uk

In this blog Dr Elizabeth Faulkner returns to the conference she organized with Dr Laura Lammasniemi just over a year ago.

One Year On: Critical Perspectives on ‘Modern Slavery’: Law, Policy and Society, 30 October, 2019

On 30 October 2019, we welcomed speakers and attendees to the Wilberforce Institute conference ‘Critical Perspectives on “Modern Slavery”: Law, Policy and Society’. Organised collaboratively with Dr Laura Lammasniemi (University of Warwick), our one-day interdisciplinary conference aimed to explore the issue of ‘modern slavery’ through providing a platform to critique related legal, ideological, political and policy responses.

As a term ‘modern slavery’ serves as a powerful tool that invokes an extensive appeal to altruistic feeling, while simultaneously providing an expansive umbrella-like term for a range of exploitative practices.  The issues of human trafficking and ‘modern slavery’ have become one of great contemporary importance and in the past decades there has been a flurry of legal and policy responses to the issues at international and national level. Simultaneously, there has been vast amounts of scholarship on the topic, much of it critical of those responses, fiercely contesting the use of the term ‘slavery’ in this context. The conference generated an unprecedented amount of interest, and we were overwhelmed by the number of excellent abstract submissions. The conference featured five panels. Panel 1 critiqued the false virtue of ‘modern slavery’ law and policy, panel 2 addressed creative and alternative methodologies to the study of ‘modern slavery’, panel 3 incorporated historical and contemporary legal analysis of ‘modern slavery’, panel 4 looked at the institutional and corporate responses to ‘modern slavery’ and the final panel examined colonial and theoretical perspectives on ‘modern slavery’. We were happy to be able to deliver our vision of an interdisciplinary conference.

We were honoured to welcome Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson (University of Bristol), whose research has spearheaded the critical analysis of contemporary approaches to modern slavery and human trafficking, as one of our keynote speakers. Entitled ‘Learning from Histories of Marronage and Fugitivity’, within which she interrogated the mainstreaming of ‘modern slavery’ she advocated switching the point of comparison to histories of enslaved peoples’ efforts to extricate themselves from slavery and move closer to freedom. She highlighted the perspective of Douglass that the rights of locomotion/freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the human condition and essential to reform and progress. The second keynote was provided by Professor Jean Allain (Monash University & Wilberforce Institute) whose intricate analysis of the international laws of slavery shaped my own interest in the legal history of slavery.

The success of the conference was down to the great working relationship of the organisers, and made possible through support from the former Director of the Institute Professor John Oldfield who agreed to host the event,  and through securing external funding from the Modern Law Review and the Society of Legal Scholars. Moreover, I am indebted to my colleagues and our doctoral students who helped in the run up to and on the day of the conference. Thank you.

So what happens next? The point of this post is to look back and reflect upon the conference and provide an update of the project as it has moved on since the conclusion of the conference in 2019. I am in the process of collating an edited collection, which features some of the conference papers and incorporates chapters from invited academics, with the aim of creating an edited volume that addresses modern slavery through an interdisciplinary lens, grounded in contextualised studies from around the globe. The contributors are in the process of writing their draft chapters, and I am hopeful that the produced collection will surpass my expectations in a way that mirrors the success of the conference.

Summary of author’s recent publications

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

e.a.faulkner@hull.ac.uk

Today Dr Elizabeth Faulkner summarizes two of her latest publications.

These recent publications reflect my ongoing interest in the rights and exploitation of children and international law, which emerged out of my time as a doctoral researcher within De Montfort University’s Law School. The first is a collaboratively written journal article which seeks to address the colonial contours of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Last year saw the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC, which was ratified in 1989. This commemoration presented an opportunity to examine and revaluate the epistemologies of children’s rights, their representativeness, and their intellectual utility. The article, entitled ‘The Decolonisation of Children’s Rights and the Colonial Contours of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’ points to the potential for the UNCRC to perpetuate colonial tendencies if accepted uncritically as a global and definitive blueprint for children’s rights. We therefore sought to interrogate the power dynamics and colonial legacy upon which our views of children are formed, the colonial contours of the UNCRC and the decolonisation of children’s rights. References were made to the impact of ancillary protective legal instruments on children to provide a more holistic analysis of the legal architecture underpinning children’s rights.

Conrad and I advocate that we, as academics, need to interrogate the power dynamics that shape the underlying presumptions upon which our worldviews are built on an ongoing basis.  We used a decolonial lens to challenge both the pedagogy and scholarship of the discourse, whilst simultaneously inviting scholars to recognise and engage with the colonial legacies that perpetuate the study of children’s rights. We set out an argument that scholarship on children’s rights needs to be disentangled from hegemonic Western epistemologies if it is to remain relevant.

Indeed, the colonial legacy present within the discourse of children’s rights needs to be challenged  in a multiplicity of ways, from the development and implementation of the international legal framework, to the teaching of children’s rights, to the removing of barriers to scholars from the Global South to participating in the discourse. Such factors manifest as Hokusai’s wave, a wave that suppresses, prevents, and subsequently perpetuates the dominance of imperialist approaches to children’s rights, knowledge and reform.

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The second publication is a book chapter which analyses how international law seeks to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and appears in the fourth edition of Professor Trevor Buck’s International Child Law Routledge text, edited by Dr Rajnaara Akhtar and Dr Conrad Nyamutata of De Montfort Law School. The book examines the rights of the child using the global framework of the UNCRC. Through examining both public and private international legal aspects, this interdisciplinary text promotes a holistic understanding of the ongoing development of child law, children’s rights, and the protection of the child. Chapter 8 of the International Child Law text (‘Sexual Exploitation’) acknowledges that the sexual abuse and exploitation of children has occurred throughout human history but did not emerge upon the international agenda until the 1990s. The chapter grapples with the issue of definitions, as the expansion of the discourse since the turn of the twenty-first century has arguably rendered any definition of ‘child sexual exploitation’ as vague and ambiguous. The fact remains that international law does not offer a distinct definition of the sexual exploitation, but the international legal apparatus has sought to address this through the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC). The chapter on sexual exploitation in previous editions had mentioned trafficking, but not explicitly addressed the Trafficking Protocol and its role in combatting the sexual exploitation of children. Although trafficking is frequently perceived as synonymous with commercial sex work or ‘sexual enslavement’, this is not the case. The issue of quantification of the issues and the profits rendered from the sexual exploitation of children are touched upon, as they shape and inform the international action of global bodies that have a mandate to combat child sexual exploitation, such as The United Nations and the Group of 7 (formerly G8). The key difference between global and regional mandates is that regional ones ordinarily involve localized action. Examples of regional instruments include the Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.

The chapter finds resonance with the journal article above, through highlighting that the discourse of child sexual exploitation ‘is produced by and reproduced by the dominant discourse of childhood in the West, and more specifically, a discourse of female childhood in which female sexuality is constructed within a sexual double standard’. This analysis coincides with the fact that the most active geopolitical region seeking to combat child sexual exploitation is Europe. Moreover, this chapter sought to introduce the emerging critical scholarship upon the issue of ‘modern slavery’ and challenge the assertion of the previous edition that ‘trafficking … has become a modern-day slave trade’.