Beyond Ideology: Interdisciplinary Research on Trafficking, Forced Labor, and Migration

February 2011

A complex new counter-trafficking legal order spans the United Nations, international treaty law, and local criminal law. It is widely understood to be—and in some places is enforced as—an antiprostitution effort and, as such, it is swathed in ideological conflict over sexual morality. But the actual legal mechanisms have profound impacts on migrant laborers across the spectrum of possible work destinations, on refugees, and on low-wage workers in receiving countries. Ten years after the adoption of the UN’s counter-trafficking and counter-smuggling protocols, it is time for a thoroughgoing assessment of the trafficking regime. This exploratory seminar brings together legal scholars specializing in the full range of relevant legal orders; social science scholars who have done field work with migrant workers, including sex workers; and leading participants in NGOs dedicated to refugee protection, safe migration, public health services for sex workers, and related areas of human rights concern. In the seminar, we gather what we know (breaking down interdisciplinary barriers in the process); report on current research; and assess the need for further research. In the long term, participants will commit to a publishing effort aimed at collating the best research on the actual distributive consequences of international and national antitrafficking efforts to date, and they will set the stage for a reassessment of law and policy in this area.