Tag: slavery

Legal Prostitution: what can we learn from the empirical record?

No, this isn’t one of those posts where we go all “Monkey Cage” on our readers and pimp (sorry)  promote political-science research, but rather a “Dan is befuddled, perhaps readers might help” kind of thing. In other words, I make no effort to answer the question of the title. The post is an extended version of the question itself.

In one of those strange synergies associated with social media, I’ve seen a fair number of things about prostitution today. Erik Loomis points to an interesting history of sex work. Then there’s this Julie Bindel piece arguing that “the Dutch experiment in legalized prostitution has been a disaster,” which isn’t very good but does mention the key problem with experiments on decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution: that they just seem to make life easier for pimps, organized criminal syndicates, human traffickers, and others seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and men  (she does a better job chronicling those issues here). Sweden’s decision to abandon a regulatory model and criminalize the buying of sex (but not the selling of sex) gets a lot of positive press these days.

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2011 Grawemeyer winner

Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves, has won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $100,000 this year.

The press release describes the award-winning ideas from Ending Slavery, the most recent book published by Bales with University of California Press:

In the book, Bales outlines steps to end the enslavement of some 27 million people worldwide. Slavery and human trafficking are tightly interwoven into the modern global economy, so new political and economic policies must be enacted to suppress them, he says.

Slavery, illegal in every country but still widely practiced, can be stopped within 30 years at a cost of less than $20 billion, a much cheaper price tag than most other social problems, he argues…

“Bales lays out an urgent human challenge, offers ways to make a difference and challenges the reader to become part of the solution,” award jurors said.

Since 2001, Bales’ group has liberated thousands of slaves in India, Nepal, Haiti, Ghana, Brazil, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the story, as did the local Louisville Courier Journal and other news outlets. This is from the local paper:

[Bales] estimates that modern slavery puts tens of billions of dollars worth of products into the global economy each year. And while every country has laws against slavery, some don’t enforce them or provide few resources to fight it.

Bales’ ideas for suppressing it involve a mix of tightening government enforcement on illegal trafficking; enacting new policies for businesses that identify when slavery is connected to global supply chains; and adding more grassroots efforts to help free groups of slaves — and then help them get basic skills to avoid such traps again.

Bales said individuals can also help by buying Fair Trade goods and choosing socially responsible investment options.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Bales said. “But there is a box of magic bullets,”

Bales was trained as a sociologist at LSE, but IR theorists interested in norm construction, human rights, and/or scholarly activism will want to check out the award-winning book, as well as other scholarship Bales has produced on this topic.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize. This entails soliciting external book reviews, chairing a first-round screening committee, bringing together a panel of experts to evaluate and rank a set of semi-finalists, and making sure that the information gleaned from these processes is advanced to a Final Selection Committee.

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A “war on slavery?”

Over at Coming Anarchy, “Munro Ferguson” writes:

This past December, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon warned that the current geo-economic crisis would add fuel to the already raging fire that is international human trafficking. 146 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, there exists more slaves on planet earth now than at any other given time.

The UN puts the number of current slaves at some 27 million human beings, though a recent UN report offers the caveat that forced labor is much harder to track and enumerate than the most proliferate form, that of sex-slavery, and so the exact number may well be higher.

He accompanies his post with a link to a SkyTV documentary on sex trafficking. All pretty appalling stuff, albeit depressingly familiar to anybody whose even skimmed the surface of the subject. So, while I don’t particularly like describing a campaign against thugs, criminals, and slavers as a “war,” I have to agree that this issue needs to be much higher on the international agenda.

I know some of our readers have expertise in this area, so I welcome any comments. My sense is that the policy portfolio has to include (1) more aggressive efforts against trafficking rings, (2) economic development in regions such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, (3) policies that exempt slaves from the legal requirement for passports and grant them at least temporary refugee status, and (4) massive public awareness campaigns to deter men from frequenting prostitutes at high risk of being sex slaves.

On that last note, it strikes me that even if there’s some truth to the argument, talking about how all prostitution is rape doesn’t help matters. Some prostitution really is rape–prostitution involving sex slaves–and at least some of the men committing the crime might change their behavior if they realized what they were doing. None of this will help, of course, in countries where dominant norms mean that men–and government officials–just don’t care.

The really thorny issue, as I understand it, concerns legalization. The underlying theory of legal prostitution makes sense, insofar as it allows state agencies to regulate the business and puts prostitutes in regular contact with state officials. But, in practice, there’s at least some evidence that legalization provides a “protective belt” that allows slavery and other forms of exploitation to flourish. This is one of those areas in which my long-dormant libertarian side wakes up, in that it strikes me that the problem isn’t legalization per se, but incomplete legalization, inadequate enforcement, and the stigmatization of prostitutes such that rape and exploitation are somehow considered part of their job description.

Anyway, some of the arguments for and against can be found here.

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Justice in Niger

The judicial organ of ECOWAS has found the government of Niger guilty of failing to prevent slavery within its borders.

“The landmark ruling, the first of its kind by a regional tribunal now sitting in Niamey, Niger’s capital, ordered the government to pay about $19,000 in damages to the woman, Hadijatou Mani, who is now 24.

Slavery is outlawed throughout Africa, but it persists in pockets of Niger, Mali, Mauritania and amid conflicts like the one in northern Uganda. Antislavery organizations estimate that 43,000 people are enslaved in Niger alone. Ms. Mani’s experience was typical of the practice. She was born into a traditional slave class and sold to Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about $500. Ms. Mani told court officials that Mr. Naroua had forced her to work his fields for a decade. She also claimed that he raped her repeatedly over the years. Ms. Mani brought her case to the court this year, arguing that the Niger government had failed to enforce its antislavery laws.

This is a significant ruling not just in Niger and not just in regards to the slave trade. However, I wonder if it’s significant in the ways that some antislavery activists in the region are claiming. For example:

“For 17 years, we have been working towards bringing slavery to the attention of the authorities,” said Ilguilas Weila, president of Timidria, a Niger antislavery advocacy group, in a statement. “This verdict means that the state of Niger will now have to resolve this problem once and for all.”

That’s not at all clear to me, since like some other regional courts the Community Court of Justice does not actually have the power to enforce its rulings. As my former professor Robert Darst liked to say, the absence of teeth means it has less power than Judge Judy, whose guests sign contracts agreeing to abide by her rulings; the contracts, though not the rulings themselves, are enforceable through tort law in a US Court. By contrast, no authority will punish a state who simply ignores such rulings; so they tend to be what states will make of them. There is a real question as to whether Ms. Mani will see a penny of this money, or whether the shaming effect of this ruling will have a long term impact on the enforcement of anti-slavery laws in Niger.

But it may. It is notable that the Niamey government does have such laws on the books and is not in the business of openly condoning or winking at slavery. In recent years the policy has been one of denial (as opposed to justification), suggesting a growing, acknowledged opprobrium; and what this case does is invalidate such denials. This may force the government to adopt stronger anti-slavery measures, since it clearly wishes to convey that it opposes the practice. It’s one thing to deny a practice is occurring; it’s another to excuse it once public evidence is presented by a neutral third party. The press attention to the verdict will help.

The case will also draw much-needed attention to the persistence of slavery in West Africa (let’s hope that it doesn’t obscure similar practices elsewhere in the world). Anti-slavery activists claim there are at least 40,000 people kept as slaves in Niger; smilar conditions exist in Mauritania and Mali.

Beyond the immediate impact on Nigerian law enforcement (if any), on Ms. Mani, or on anti-slavery activism, the case will have an impact in another respect: it is one in a growing trend in international jurisprudence that places the responsibility on states for human rights abuses inflicted not by agents of the state, but by citizens on one another. We can expect to see this case cited by activists and lawyers concerned with many other private human rights abuses such as domestic violence, honor killings, and hate crimes.

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