The root causes of human trafficking: A Critical analysis of the contemporary approaches to human trafficking

Sibanda, Lewis (2023). The root causes of human trafficking: A Critical analysis of the contemporary approaches to human trafficking. SLSA Conference Poster Presentation, SLSA Annual Conference 2023 (Ulster University).


The research poster problematises the current approaches to human trafficking. These approaches (criminalisation and human rights-based approaches) to human trafficking reflect a reluctance to address the root causes contributing to trafficking related exploitation. They are more concerned with the prosecution of perpetrators or the protection of victims, which only addresses the problematic manifestations of the problem while leaving intact the structural issues behind it. This is a result of the simplistic and linear way that these approaches conceptualise human trafficking, which ignores and insulates the root causes behind the trafficking problem. By aligning with the liberal ideology these approaches conceptualise human trafficking as an instance of individual criminals who act outside the boundaries of the liberal society. They reinforce the liberal supposition of labour as being essentially free under the current political economy with labour being based on the consent of the individual worker. As a result, human trafficking which is the epitome of unfree labour is considered as encroaching upon individual autonomy and therefore warranting criminalisation or the protection of victim’s rights. Consequently, these approaches depoliticise the issue of human trafficking by not viewing the problem as one that emanates from the global political economy or one that is inherently structural. Utilising Critical Legal Approaches (Marxist analysis of the law and TWAIL), the research aims to explore the root causes of human trafficking and also unpack the various ways that the law contributes in insulating and reinforcing the structural issues at the heart of the trafficking problem. The study critiques the law’s role as ideology, deconstructing how it does more to produce and excuse violations than to prevent or remedy them.

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