Impressions of the First DemandAT Project Meeting

Impressions of the First DemandAT Project Meeting

Dita Vogel, University of Bremen gives her impressions of the first meeting of the DemandAT partners and advisory board in Vienna, 26-28 February 2014

In January 2014, the 3.5 year project DemandAT started with the aim of analysing demand-side measures and policies against trafficking in human beings. On February 27 and 28, the research consortium met to discuss research plans and to learn about expectations on the project from the EU anti-trafficking coordina-tor and other stakeholders such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Global Alli-ance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW).

Our project is funded in the 7th research framework – that means it is supposed to deliver basic research with relevance for policy-making and the wider society. This commitment to basic research implies that we are not answering concrete questions from the political field, but that our task also includes assessing whether the right questions are asked, or, as Kristina Kangaspunta from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put it, that we supply concrete definitions and contribute to a more balanced discussion.
The analysis of demand-side policies is the core of our project, so we should have an idea what we mean by demand in the context of trafficking for human beings. The Anti-Trafficking Directive requires investigation into demand and lists some policies that should be looked into, but gives no definition. Demand-side policies in the discourse seem to encompass any policies to reduce trafficking in human beings that do not target victims or potential victims, as project coordinator Albert Kraler pointed out. It concerns those who give the money to buy persons like a commodity, or to buy services from trafficked persons, or goods produced by trafficked persons, or donate to trafficked beggars. This is a pragmatic starting point for the first phase of the project, indicating the range of policies that may be addressed as “demand-side”.

From early on, we need a definition of the term ‘demand’ if we want to understand each other. Dictionaries point out a range of uses of the word demand as claims, needs, tastes, wants, the willingness and capacity to purchase something on a market. The latter is an economic definition. For anyone you studied economics, it immediately calls up a whole range of interrelated concepts. Basically, supply and demand are exercised on markets and determine the price and quantity sold. In market economies, these concepts have been taken over in everyday language, but with a more blurred meaning. As in economics, demand is usually connected to the idea of markets for goods and services. However, the notion of demand in colloquial discourses could refer to anything that influences the willingness and ability to purchase something, such as tastes, attitudes, norms and culture. For our project, we need a clear definition of demand. I suggest using the term demand in the economic sense and to use other words when we speak about factors that impact on the willingness and ability to buy something. Partners agreed to either use the definition or explicitly define it otherwise, so we will come back to the subject during our next meeting in September.

Demand in the sense of a legal or authoritative claim is something completely different. Bandana Pattanaik from GAATW has observed a focus group that criticized the current focus on demand where discussants found it more relevant that workers demand better working conditions. Robert Plant, international consultant and formerly International Labour Organisation (ILO), spoke about industrial actors demanding regulations that allow them to abuse workers. Here, demand is used in a different sense. It does not refer to people who spend money that in some way impacts on trafficking. Policies addressing demand in the sense of claims-making are not the subject of our study, although this is certainly a worthwhile subject as well.

Puns (homonyms) with widely differing meanings are hardly ever confused. Take the example of ‘ball’. It is usually clear from the context whether we speak of a ‘ball’ in the sense of sports equipment or a dancing event. With ‘demands’ in the sense of willingness and ability to buy and demand as authoritative claim this is not so easy, particularly in a labour relations context. If an employer is demanding work from an employee, it could mean that he or she is willing to pay a specific wage for a specific work, but it could also indicate the exercise of power over someone. Whenever labour is concerned, it is better to avoid using ‘demand’ as a verb, as it may create confusion. Siobhan McGrath reminded the participants of the problem addressing labour relations as a market: Work cannot be separated from the person. You cannot go to work or deliver a personal service and leave your body at home. In labour relations and service delivery, there are always contractual obligations and social relations that limit the freedom of individuals. Particularly in such contexts, we should describe as concretely as possible what we mean. To finish with an example what we should avoid:
There is a demand for an unambiguous concept of demand – and it is a demanding task to avoid confusion due to the many meanings of the word demand.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily express the views of the DemandAT project consortium as whole.