Prabha Kotiswaran, Ed., Revisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017)

By Perry, Mike | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Prabha Kotiswaran, Ed., Revisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017)


Perry, Mike, Labour/Le Travail


Prabha Kotiswaran, ed., Revisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017)

As NEIL GAIMAN admonished: "the law is a blunt instrument." Transnational scholar Peer Zumbansen notes that violence and vulnerability accompany the law. Still, discourses of human trafficking --popular, political, and scholarly--tend to focus on the law, almost invariably on criminality and enforcement.

Prabha Kotiswaran's latest contribution to much-needed scholarship on trafficking, forced labour, and contemporary slavery readily acknowledges the "sheer ineffectiveness of anti-trafficking law." (6) Blunt in airing a usually unstated anxiety in anti-trafficking work, Kotiswaran identifies the paucity of outcomes of anti-trafficking law as fundamentally problematic to its continued prioritization. But are these not statements against interest for a book on human trafficking law? No. Kotiswaran's project is to "decentre" (7) trafficking from the law.

An edited work, Kotiswaran's goal is to produce a volume of "socio-legal" (5) analysis of the law and policy related to trafficking, forced labour, and modern slavery. To navigate the "chaos" (6) of the anti-trafficking landscape that features weak institutionalization; poor direction; symbolic compliance; dysfunctional definitional discord; and the conflation of trafficking with both slavery and forced labour, Kotiswaran strives to articulate a transnational legal lens beyond criminal and international law approaches and traditional global geographies.

Kotiswaran's formulation of a pluralist transnational law approach provides a valuable analytical tool that encompasses a multiplicity of the tense and impactful factors--e.g. public and private legal process; informal and "soft law"' sources; and action by non-state actors--that simultaneously cause, reproduce, and combat human trafficking. In so doing, Kotiswaran moves beyond simply referencing the tensions inherent in anti-trafficking inquiry, acknowledging--and seeking to take on --the "mess," "paradoxes," (5) and buried issues in anti-trafficking work.

To this end, Kotiswaran's book is presented in five parts. Part I provides an historical context of international law --including its difficulties--to address human trafficking. Part II offers a legal realist critique of anti-trafficking law. Part III canvasses the role and influence of non-state actors and the move of anti-trafficking regulation from government to governance. Part IV focuses on the role of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in producing data on trafficking and the ILO'S influence in concluding the 2014 Protocol on Forced Labour. Part V examines the political economy of labour and evaluates anti-trafficking frameworks for domestic workers. Kotiswaran concludes the book by offering an agenda for research on mobility, migration, and the potential of the law.

While intended to provide a work on trafficking, forced labour, and modern slavery significant for its non-legal range, the book does primarily engage the transnational legal order and a transnational legal approach. In this way, it seems to fall somewhat short of the very ambitious extra-legal project set out in its Introduction.

The book certainly contains brilliant (re-) thinking of much of the speculative intuition that motivates human trafficking law and policy responses and data collection. However, somewhat restrictively--albeit helpfully--the book focuses on definitional issues and debates, migration, and domestic work, tending to present, if not privilege, these features as the core of the contemporary labour trafficking transnational legal order.

Also, while providing valuable insights into the law and effects of forced labour, trafficking, and slavery, the book's goal of interrogating trafficking from an interdisciplinary perspective to ensure a full critique seems not fully realized. …

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