Publication of Issue 15, 'Everyday Abuse in the Global Economy'


Publication of Issue 15 of Anti-Trafficking Review, 'Everyday Abuse in the Global Economy'

Guest Editors: Joel Quirk, Caroline Robinson, and Cameron Thibos 

Editor: Borislav Gerasimov

In recent decades, neoliberal policies have transformed both the world economy and the world of work. Hard-won rights and protections have been eroded by deregulation, outsourcing, and subcontracting. New forms of unstable, isolated, and insecure work have emerged. Yet the lion’s share of attention, funding, and activism has been directed towards addressing the most extreme, but arguably much fewer, cases of exploitation – those framed as human trafficking or modern slavery.

This new Special Issue of Anti-Trafficking Review examines the driving forces behind the increasing prominence of precarious work, the accelerating role of migrant labour within global economic systems, and the political relationship between everyday abuses and forms of severe exploitation. In the opening article, Leanne McCallum compares the responses of the anti-trafficking movement and the labour rights movement to the widespread exploitation of workers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005. She contrasts the former’s focus on criminal justice and immigration enforcement with the latter’s focus on working conditions and multi-ethnic solidarity and concludes with lessons that the post-Katrina past might hold for the post-COVID-19 future. In the next article, Benjamin Harkins proposes shifting interventions to counter exploitation towards the everyday abuse of wage theft of migrant workers. He argues that migrant workers can more easily identify with not being paid than with being ‘trafficking victims’. Furthermore, such interventions would address the inequitable distribution of resources that sits at the heart of neoliberal globalisation.

The next four articles investigate specific experiences of everyday abuse. Through soundwalks with Filipinx migrant domestic workers in the UK and Lebanon, Ella Parry-Davies analyses the twin spectacular narratives of ‘modern hero’ and ‘modern slave’. She argues that these terms, used to underpin labour export policies in the Philippines and anti-trafficking interventions in Lebanon and the UK, invisibilise the mundane reality of Filipinx domestic workers and, in doing so, prevent a policy response to the abuses they experience. In the next article, Bama Athreya draws upon interviews with gig workers in multiple countries to demonstrate that gig work platforms exacerbate the existing power asymmetries between employers and workers while adding new elements of control and exploitation. She points to the need to rethink the meanings of force, fraud, and coercion in the gig economy, especially given its exponential growth. Abigail Hunt and Emma Samman continue the theme of platform work with a focus on domestic workers in South Africa. Their research shows that while workers see certain advantages of platform work over the ‘traditional’ sector, the combination of platforms’ popularity and their reliance on regulatory avoidance threatens to exclude workers from recent legislative advances in the sector. Next, Federico Parra chronicles the struggles and successes of waste pickers in Colombia to protect themselves and their livelihoods from neoliberalising policies and the state-backed privatisation of public services. He warns, however, that these gains continue to be challenged, and that the protection of livelihoods for marginalised groups can only be achieved if neoliberalism is reined in.

In the last thematic article, Lorena Arocha, Meena Gopal, Bindhulakshmi Pattadath, and Roshni Chattopadhyay again contrast the outcomes of two different approaches to workers’ exploitation and precarity, this time in India: of bonded labourers as slaves and Dalit waste-pickers as workers and citizens. They show how these two ‘ways of seeing’ lead to disparate results in terms of workers’ capacity to mobilise and claim their rights.

These full-length research articles are followed by five responses to the debate proposition: ‘It is worth undermining the anti-trafficking cause in order to more directly challenge the systems producing everyday abuses within the global economy’. Three of the contributions, by Ella Cockbain, Sienna Baskin and Huey Hewitt, and Kate Roberts, reject the zero-sum framing of the statement and instead argue that anti-trafficking interventions can be used to challenge the systems producing everyday abuses. The other two contributions, by Alison Clancey and Frances Mahon and Lisa Rende Taylor, solidly support the debate’s central proposition that anti-trafficking should be abandoned in order to refocus on everyday abuses.

Taken together, the contributions to this Special Issue highlight the complexity of underlying policies related to the governance of migration, global commerce, labour markets, human rights, and decent work. They also underscore the fact that there is no singular or straightforward solution to the problems associated with everyday abuse and extreme exploitation. It is instead necessary to take many bumpy paths simultaneously, with small steps forward and some steps backward.

View the new issue at 

See a short video where Benjamin Harkins speaks about his article 'Base Motives: The case for an increased focus on wage theft against migrant workers' here.

See a short video where Ella Parry-Davis speaks about her article 'Modern Heroes, Modern Slaves? Listening to migrant domestic workers' everyday temporalities' here.