Victims of trafficking and modern slavery or agents of change? Migrants, brokers, and the state in Ghana and Myanmar

by Priya Deshingkar, Mariama Awumbila and Joseph Kofi Teye

31 May 2019
Journal of the British Academy
Number of pages
30 (pp. 77-106)

Abstract: The authors provide critical insights into the creation of unfree labour in Ghana and Myanmar by examining the roles of brokers, the state and employers in positioning migrants in exploitative work in Libya, the Middle East, Singapore, and Thailand. The analysis draws on in-depth interviews with migrant construction workers and domestic workers, formal and informal brokers, transport providers, and other stakeholders. The authors show that brokerage is embedded in systems of reciprocity and closely depends on the co-optation of state actors. The research suggests that, rather than viewing migrants and those who mediate it in opposition and the state as a benevolent facilitator, they should be analysed as co-constituting human trafficking, debt-bondage, and forced labour. It highlights the need for states to take greater responsibility for their own involvement in creating modern slavery. At the same time, the findings highlight the ways in which migrants use brokerage to exercise agency by taking advantage of irregular migration routes and informal employment.

Keywords: Modern slavery, human trafficking, migration brokerage, migration industry, debt-bondage, forced labour.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 7,
supplementary issue 1 (Tackling Modern Slavery: Problems and Possibilities).

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