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.