Research Output
Expanding Circles of Failure: The Rise of Bad Anti-Trafficking, and What to Do About It
  The anti-trafficking movement has been able to expand and impact on ever-broader circles of life in spite of – and often because of – a failure to achieve its stated goals. These goals are broadly encapsulated within the much-lauded 4P ‘anti-trafficking paradigm’ – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership – which, in turn, responds to the ‘master-narrative’ of human trafficking: the belief that ‘Trafficking in persons is on the rise, and it depends largely on legal shortcomings and thus demands the strengthening of laws and support for NGOs’ (Lindquist 2013: 320). Within these broad parameters, the whole anti-trafficking eco-system or, as some (Kapur 2017, Agustin 2008, Kempadoo 2015) argue, ‘industry’ has continued to grow: anti-trafficking ‘researcher-evaluator-consultants’ gain currency by making sensationalist statements based on anecdote and misinformation rather than evidence, linking human trafficking to terrorism, money-laundering, ISIS, Boko Haram and, recently, QAnon, and offering anti-trafficking workshops, trainings, accreditations and certificates.

With that in mind this article will discuss some examples of this expansion, focussing on ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking, including ineffective awareness-raising, poor-quality anti-trafficking apps, and harmful enforcement action. We call for two responses to this: firstly, a defunding of the anti-trafficking industry (alongside investment in more effective responses to trafficking and exploitation); secondly, where an anti-trafficking approach is the best option (as opposed to, for example, a focus on workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, or wealth redistribution), there should be more critical appraisal of which approaches work, and which do not.

  • Type:

    Website Content

  • Date:

    18 November 2021

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    Global Policy Journal

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Mendel, J., & Sharapov, K. (2021). Expanding Circles of Failure: The Rise of Bad Anti-Trafficking, and What to Do About It. [Online]



human trafficking, modern slavery, migration, enforcement, policy, defunding, humanitarianism

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