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In the past two decades human trafficking has been increasingly termed ‘modern slavery’ and anti-trafficking work likened to nineteenth century efforts to abolish slavery. NGOs, politicians and the media make heavy use of visual tropes alluding to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and it is often said that human trafficking is ‘modern slavery’. But are such historical references really warranted?

This issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review explores some of the histories that created and continue to shape the phenomena discussed under the rubric of human trafficking, and the contemporary discourse of trafficking itself. It highlights the ways in which simplistic analogies between wrongs past and present can hamper, rather than facilitate, efforts to secure rights and protections in the contemporary moment. Contributions from Africa, Europe and the Americas focus on the race politics of ‘modern slavery’ campaigns, the history of indentured and ‘coolie’ labour, the legacies of anti-white slavery legislation and the restrictions on labour migration that can exacerbate human trafficking. Ultimately, they reveal that more critical engagement with the histories of transatlantic slavery, colonialism and their afterlives can teach us a great deal about the forms of violence, injustice and oppression that are tolerated today in the dominant liberal world order.

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Published: 2017-09-21