Rev Chris Frazer is our diocesan deacon for social justice, and helped to co-ordinate a recent cross-agency workshop to address issues of concern relating to people trafficking and labour exploitation. This is the short presentation she gave at the workshop. A more detailed report from Chris will be published on Movement Online later in the month.
There is a journalist cliché that says sometimes a story can be “too good to check.” The premise that something you have heard, read or watched on YouTube or the big screen with regards to the trafficking and exploitation of people is “too good to check” could easily be the mantra for many of the media articles and anti-trafficking campaigns we see in action today around the world.
Sweeping generalisations, unsubstantiated statistics and sensationalist stories have served to mask the complexities surrounding both labour exploitation and people trafficking. The 21st century people trafficking paradigm has been packaged and labelled in ways that are hampering true understanding of the crime.
Labelling can and is helpful when it’s applied to accurately describe a group or entity, by using a general word or phrase. We need labels to help us think efficiently. Where it becomes problematic and downright dangerous is when we label people in ways that take away their agency diminishing them into a one dimensional stereotype.
People are complex, multifaceted and multidimensional, they deserve to be seen and understood within the context of a much bigger picture than simplifying them down to being helpless, victimised and in need of being rescued.
The label of trafficking emerged in the 1990s and in many ways has been helpful in focussing a spotlight on global criminal activity that has seen women, men and children, the young and not so young, exploited for their labour. It also led to new areas of research and activism. However quantifying those labelled as trafficking victims has proved challenging; effective disclosure of those working in the shadow economy an ongoing issue of concern. How can we count with confidence irregular migrant workers who may be nervous about their legal status? How do you define consent and choice in situations where people may know they are travelling on false papers, or have been unsure about exactly what form their journeys away from their homeland may take?
People have many diverse reasons for risking all to travel overseas; it may be fleeing from war or poverty, but may also be
for reasons of desiring and aspiring for a far better life for themselves and their families. Those new into our country
deserve our respect and a significant part of that respect is working with them in ensuring they are not being exploited for
our financial gain.
I believe working collaboratively together, civil society alongside our government and business community, we can build on the good work already happening, and indeed be a leading example for other countries. But first, within our respective communities, through awareness and education, we must move away from the narrow trafficking rescue narrative, which has been described often in terms of saints, sinners and saviours, to a far more realistic understanding of the labour exploitation label that is made in New Zealand.
Can we do this? Yes, I firmly believe we can!