Joanna Ewart-James is the executive director at Freedom United, an international organisation working to end modern slavery. Beyond Trafficking and Slavery spoke with her on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the UN Trafficking Protocol to discuss whether or not it is better to be on the ‘inside’ of the anti-trafficking and anti-modern slavery project, or to defend a more radical viewpoint centred on labour rights from the fringe.
Neil Howard (BTS): What does your instinct tell you about whether or not we’re better off on the inside of the project to end ‘modern slavery’?
Joanna Ewart-James (Freedom United): The language you use and how you try to tackle the issue within that framing is, I argue, more important than whether you are trying to effect change from within an institution or not. I differentiate between actors who see modern slavery as an aberration to normal society, and the position I hold that it is actually for a large part a systemic problem. That it’s a result of a system where labour protections are weak, discrimination thrives, and where priority is often given to other matters like immigration policies, cheap prices, and fractured supply chains. In my view these causes make exploitation almost inevitable.
I’ve always talked about modern slavery. As much as it’s simply an umbrella term that doesn’t have a specific conceptual meaning, that puts me on the inside of the ‘modern slavery framing’. But inside that inside, I’m not part of the camp that says this is an aberration or crime that isn’t accepted. I say, ‘No, it is accepted. Of course it’s accepted. That’s why it happens so much, because we do tolerate it.’ That’s where my position is different.
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