The last two decades have seen a whole host of political leaders, including both George W. Bush and Robert Mugabe, publicly declare their support for the global cause of combating human trafficking.
Politicians on the left and right rarely agree about anything these days, yet there have recently been many occasions where anti-trafficking laws and policies have secured high-level, bipartisan support. This diverse political coalition has helped to promote a misleading image of human trafficking as a ‘non-ideological’ issue that transcends ‘normal’ politics, with conservatives, liberals, traditionalists and progressives all coming together under the banner of a common global cause.
To help make sense of the issues involved here, we need to reflect on why political and ideological adversaries have often been able to reach – or at least appear to reach – an unusual degree of common ground when it comes to combatting trafficking.
Who gets what, when
Politics has often been defined in terms of who gets what, when, and how. The question of who gets what frequently boils down to political competition over the distribution of wealth and power. Politicians and political parties generate at least part of their support via their capacity to protect and promote the interests of key economic and social groups. In many countries, this often involves an expectation that politicians on the left will support the interests of workers and the public sector, while their counterparts on the right support corporations and the private sector. While not everything can be explained in terms of interests, there is no doubt that interests matter a great deal when it comes to shaping political behaviour and political outcomes.
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