Human Rights and Modern-Day Slavery

"Survivors are no different than you are. You are no different than I am. Just because I have stood on the street corner soliciting sex does not mean that I cannot understand you and you cannot understand me. If you were born to my parents and put in the exact same situation, you would be writing this letter right now." —Minh Dang, survivor of family controlled sexual exploitation in the SF Bay Area, 2014

"My Administration is committed to leveraging every resource we have to confront this threat, to support the victims and survivors, and to hold traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes." —President Donald J. Trump

"But for all the progress that we've made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here, in the United States. It's the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker. The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happening in the United States of America."—President Barack Obama

Although we are in the year 2020, there are still some 40 million persons estimated to be enslaved across the world today, caught up in sex trafficking, various forms forced labor, forced marriage, and forced servitude. The irony of it all is that slavery is illegal in every country in the world. And yet it continues to flourish.

In this class, we will explore the nature and origins of modern slavery. Some key questions we will ask include: What causes modern slavery? How many persons are enslaved today and how do we know? What is the linkage between historic enslavement and slavery today? How can we free an enslaved person so that they can live a life filled with dignity and purpose? What are non-governmental and governmental organizations doing to stem the tide of enslavement with an eye on its eradication? How might climate change, climate refugees, and the rise of nationalism do to worsen enslavement before it gets better? What can we learn from the voices of enslaved as we seek to liberate them? What is freedom to begin with?

Inside the Classroom

Inside the classroom, we will have a mixture of lectures, discussions, guest speakers, and multi-media. Dr. Datta will guide all class discussions, but expect students to be prepared to participate, listen to one another with empathy and understanding, and engage one another in thought-provoking and honest conversation.

Dr. Datta plans to host at least a couple of survivors of contemporary slavery so that they can share their testimony in class. Some of my colleagues who are survivors include: Holly Austin Smith, Ima Matul, Maria Suarez, Elisabeth Corey, and Tanya Street. We will also plan to either host in person or Skype-in with several anti-slavery organizations, including The Arise Foundation, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Polaris Project, as well as some key activists including Amy O’Neill Richard from the US State Dept, Kevin Bales from the Rights Lab, and Rob Lederer from the Responsible Business Alliance.

Students will also be exposed to my research on human trafficking and modern slavery. Dr. Datta is currently partnering with a non-governmental organization, The Arise Foundation, based in London. The research with Arise, along with my colleague Dr. Bob Spires, looks at how much, and in what ways, trust (or social capital) matters in promoting and implementing effective anti-slavery outcomes. We hypothesize that those organizations with higher levels of trust can work on ending slavery more effectively than those organizations with lower levels of trust, other things being equal.

Outside the Classroom

Outside the classroom, we will explore the legacy of slavery in Richmond, Virginia and think critically about the extent to which the botched emancipation of 1865 and the plight of the African-American experience informs the fight against contemporary slavery. We will walk and reflect upon Monument Avenue and the Lost Cause Narrative, as well as the 2017 Charlottesville protests. We will also hear from my colleague who worked at the Richmond City Jail, to learn more about the plight of the prison industrial complex and its influence on the African-American community.

Students will travel with Dr. Datta and Dr. Bob Spires to London, England. We will meet with our partners with the Arise Foundation and other counter-trafficking organizations in the city. We will also take a day trip to the University of Nottingham and meet with our partners at the Rights Lab, a think tank that focuses on anti-slavery issues.

Research and Capstone Project

The Spring 2021 semester will be spent on student research projects, overlapping with the work of myself and Dr. Spires. Students will be expected to present their research at the SSIR capstone as well as at the 2021 Arts & Sciences Research Symposium.

Sample Course Readings

Some books we might explore include:

 Some documentaries we might explore include:

 Some government and non-governmental reports we might explore include: