Modern Slavery and Conflict: The Drivers and the Deterrents

Dr Alicia Kidd

Postdoctoral Researcher

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.kidd@hull.ac.uk

Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wilberforce Institute, talks about her forthcoming research monograph, Modern Slavery and Conflict: The Drivers and the Deterrents, after securing a contract with Oxford University Press. Her book will run in the Clarendon Studies in Criminology series.

This book developed out of my PhD thesis on the relationship between conflict and modern slavery, which I completed at the Wilberforce Institute in 2019. I had come to the subject in response to my experience as a practitioner in the field where I identified a real gap in research and knowledge regarding the root causes of modern slavery. In bringing an academic focus to practitioner experience, my book injects new material into the field of modern slavery, which is an area in which interest continues to grow amongst academics, practitioners and members of the public alike. This growing interest in modern slavery has also led to large public debates about immigration and asylum which are topics that my book engages with, particularly in relation to the discrepancies between the UK government’s declared intention to lead the way in defeating modern slavery whilst simultaneously imposing a restrictive and hostile environment on those seeking asylum.

By looking beyond just the individuals involved in cases of modern slavery – the victims and the perpetrators – my book will consider the ways in which states facilitate, and sometimes even actively encourage, situations of modern slavery to occur. While there is growing visibility of modern slavery, the portrayal of modern slavery cases inevitably focuses on an unwilling victim, tricked or deceived into exploitation by a criminal perpetrator looking to benefit from the victim’s misfortune. My book will challenge this conception of modern slavery by questioning the common assumptions that a) victims of modern slavery are all entirely distanced from the fate that awaits them and b) that modern slavery is a relationship simply between a victim and a perpetrator.

With a broad definition of conflict as an organising concept, I consider the ways in which conflict can facilitate modern slavery by generating unsafe conditions, disrupting support networks and encouraging displacement. Using first-hand accounts, comparisons are made between those who fled conflict to the UK in relative safety, and those who fled but then experienced modern slavery. My book contextualises these stories in order to understand why some people appear to be more at risk than others when escaping a conflict situation. The book also considers the lives of people after they have fled conflict and arrived in the UK. With the belief that they have left danger behind, arriving in the UK brings hopes of safety. However, by drawing insights from interviews with those who have experienced the UK immigration system, I am able to make observations about how the UK government and its restrictive and hostile immigration policies actually put people at increased risk of modern slavery once they are in the UK.

The strength of my book lies in its unique empirical focus on a comparison between first-hand accounts of people fleeing conflict to safety, and those fleeing conflict and experiencing modern slavery. It offers rare personal insights into the experiences of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of modern slavery and the specific aspects of their journeys that made them vulnerable to exploitation. I hope to have the first edition available in print in 2022.

In this blog, Professor Oldfield talks about the collaboration he was involved with between the Wilberforce Institute and the British Library.

Children Falling Through the Net

James Baker

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

j.baker-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

Jasmine Holding Brown

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

j.holding-brown-2019@hull.ac.uk

Charlotte Russell

Wiseman PhD Research Scholarship

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.russell-2018@hull.ac.uk

The Wilberforce Institute is home to a number of students whose PhD research focuses on child migration and exploitation, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Four recently came together to explore the connections and the points of difference between their studies. James Baker, Jasmine Holding Brown and Saphia Fleury are first year students in the Falling through the Net cluster, and Charlotte Russell is in her second year. They share their thoughts below.

Our connections:

All four of our research projects are concerned with the situations and processes, emerging in the context of migration, that place children at risk of exploitation. Although approached in different ways, and applied in disparate geographical, cultural and historical contexts, there are common concerns relating to issues of vulnerability and victimhood.

Vulnerabilities are understood, in part, as a condition of childhood, since to varying degrees children depend on adults for protection and survival. However, settlement in unfamiliar territories brings with it cultural and linguistic displacement and furthers the risks of exploitation. This raises important concerns regarding children on the move, who not only have specific needs but are also the bearers of rights.  This in turn focuses attention on the power differentials between adults and children and the relationships between children and the state. It is notable in all our projects that the experiences of migrant children are varied and complex, but also, crucially, that their perspectives are often missing.

Victimhood represents the second of our common concerns. We all seek to balance the acknowledgment of vulnerabilities with the risk of imposing culturally determined images of victimhood upon migrant children. In managing these issues our work is linked by a critical approach, not the notion of ‘victim’ in itself, but to the imposition of a particular form of passive victimhood upon children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma or harm in relation to forced migration.

Our differences:

James and heritage

My particular focus is on how heritage has been utilised to preserve and represent the experience of forced child emigration. As a historian who is interested in memory studies and public history, I am concentrating largely on how museums and memorials have chosen to represent the topic of forced child emigration from Britain to Australia. This research raises a number of important issues; not only do I need to investigate the role that former child migrants themselves have played in defining their own heritage, but I also need to understand how the wider public relates to this history and their contemporary moral judgments of child migrant schemes. I will also be looking to make a comparative analysis of the British and Australian heritage regimes at large, in addition to how the creation of heritage markers in relation to the Home Children can facilitate the wider process of historical redress and reconciliation.

Jasmine and rescue

My project focuses on child rescue – the development of social movements aimed at ‘rescuing’ children, the agencies involved and the ideologies underpinning their practices. I am looking at forced child migration (from Britain to Canada) and compulsory residential schooling (for Indigenous Canadian children) in the 20th Century, to explore the ways in which these drastic, and, ultimately harmful practices were legitimised. Factors that were significant in cementing these forms of ‘child rescue’ include, I suggest, the assumed moral authority of white middle-class philanthropists, religious institutions and other agencies of the state, in addition to the alignment of child rescue with imperialist and colonial political agendas, namely white settlement and assimilation. These cases raise important questions about the nature of the ‘parent state’: who is entitled to act on behalf of children; how are these arrangements constructed, which potentially conflicting interests do they also serve, and to whom are they accountable?

Saphia and the environment

My research looks specifically at modern-day child migration in the context of environmental change, particularly climate change. In my analysis of legal frameworks for the protection of children, I found that, while sufficient legal protections do exist, these are frequently not applied to children on the move. Moreover, there is a protection gap for people migrating as a result of environmental change, who do not fit the category of ‘refugees’.  As a result, many are pushed into exploitative situations, or suffer abuse or an inability to realise their human rights. As climate change reduces the number of people who can sustain a livelihood at home, we might expect the international community to provide support and sustainable solutions for those who need to move. Yet in the context of climate change, the issue of ‘agency’ becomes muddied; more so when considering the decisions made by children who leave their homes in search of a better life.

Charlotte and encampment

In my research, the refugee camp becomes the focus of attention as I assess the role of power and responsibility in the management of such camps. My study seeks to evaluate how these power dynamics, operating within the boundaried and politically contested zone of the refugee camp, influence the embodiment and enactment of a rights consciousness among the young refugees living within them. Children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma suffer the imposition of a particular form of passive victimhood or harm in relation to forced migration. As a result, a key issue which my work aims to address is the effective representation of the experiences of young refugees in camps, without homogenisation or groupism. I’m seeking to balance evidencing young refugees’ expressions of agency with the acknowledgement of their complex and varied individual experiences of ‘childhood’.

Thank you for your interest in our research. We will be adding other blogs as our work develops.

Children photographed as they prepare to leave Britain in the 1960s.