Experts debate specific improvements to anti-trafficking measures

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Dr. Mattar, Professor Stacy, Professor Brysk and Annie Fukushima.

The Program on Human Rights concluded its ninth and final installment of the Sanela Diana Jenkins International Speakers Series on March 13 with presentations with Dr. Mohammed Mattar, executive director of the Protection Project and professor at Johns Hopkins University and Professor Alison Brysk, chair of Global Governance, Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara.

Dr. Mattar noted that while effective anti-trafficking laws depend on law enforcement and survivor protection, the key intellectual and ethical rationale of such laws is the concept of the exploitation of vulnerable people in vulnerable circumstances. Dr. Mattar explained the legal distinction between “human trafficking” and “slavery,” emphasizing that the latter is based on twin ideas of human beings as commodities to be bought and sold, as well as the exercise of ownership of one person over another. “There is no doubt that human trafficking is a degrading and severe violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, but it is unnecessary to label human trafficking as slavery because to do so we would need to identify the exercise of powers attached to the right of ownership,” Mattar said.

Among the challenges for a more effective anti-trafficking effort, Dr. Mattar listed the need to hold corporations responsible for their acts, to provide access to justice that allows for victim compensation, the engagement of civil society, and criminal enforcement and accountability under existing national and international law.

Professor Brysk explained that globalization has produced pernicious side effects.  The acceleration of migration, especially of women, increases the incidence of gender violence and the commodification of “disposable people.” All these factors enable the increase of human trafficking. Brysk observed that international recognition of trafficking as a form of contemporary slavery has been helpful in influencing policy change. “There is a slavery spectrum,” Brysk said. “We need to work to guarantee physical integrity of people, migration rights and children’s rights.”

She also noted that the focus on sex slavery has high costs because it is based on “protection and not empowerment,” and “rescue over rights.” The individualistic emphasis and sexual focus of anti-trafficking efforts fails to recognize many forms of exploitative globalized labor. Women and children are put in dangerous and debilitating non-sexual jobs. There are also many forms of sexual and gender violence in other forms of exploitative globalized labor, such as in sweatshops.

Together, the speakers in the final session of the Program on Human Rights speaker series made a strong plea for more sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of human trafficking in the 21st century. Sustained research that accounts for contemporary conditions, they told the Stanford audience, is needed to give policy makers and legislators the information and tools they need to combat the alarming global acceleration of human trafficking.