Welcome to www.demandat.eu!

Welcome to www.demandat.eu!

Project Co-ordinator, Albert Kraler blogs on the DemandAT website launch for 30 April 2014

As the coordinator of the DemandAT project, I am very pleased to welcome you on the new project website.  The website will be one of our principle tools to share findings of the project with researchers, policy-makers, and other stakeholders, as well as the wider public. Through blogs posted to the website regularly and written by authors within and outside the consortium, we will engage with issues of current concern around demand in the context trafficking in human beings (THB), thus also aiming to contribute to a debate that is longstanding, but where there seems to be relatively little progress in the past one and a half decades  since the adoption of the Palermo protocol . At the time of the adoption of the protocol, the dominant understanding was that demand-side measures against trafficking mainly referred to trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and the demand for commercial sex (ICAT 2012). Indeed, both on the policy level and in academic writing, there has been a strong focus on sexual exploitation, with the debate being characterized by a strong ideological divide between abolitionists equating prostitution with exploitation and promoting the criminalisation of clients, and activists and academics rejecting the conflation of prostitution and trafficking and warning of the increased vulnerability to trafficking and other forms of exploitations that criminalisation in their view means for sex-workers.   

Since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol the understanding of the role of “demand” has considerably evolved, and has extended to consumer demand for goods and services whose production or delivery (may) involve trafficking in human beings, employer demand, and demand for exploitative labour emanating from intermediaries, such as recruitment agencies.  

Yet as a recent paper by the Interagency Coordination Group against Trafficking (ICAT) notes: “Despite [the almost unanimous recognition of the role of demand within the trafficking debate and in relevant instruments under international law], there are few examples of concrete initiatives that have been undertaken to discourage demand when compared with those that have intended to address supply, and fewer still that can demonstrate success” (ICAT 2012: 8). This absence of concrete successful initiatives is also related to a lack of consent about the baseline issues: to a lack of consent about what demand actually should refer to ; about whether demand-side measures are about individuals who knowingly use or take advantage of the services of trafficked persons, or whether such measures should also target unknowing consumers or employers; and about whether measures should be specifically targeting trafficking in human beings or address wider issues of exploitative conditions arguably conducive to trafficking.  Against this background, one of the main objectives of the DemandAT project is to bring some clarity into to the debate, both conceptually (how should we understand demand in the context of trafficking for human beings; how should we think of demand-side measures? What kind of regulatory tools are available to steer demand) and empirically (what kind of instruments exists to address demand; how successful are these instruments?).   

 A focus on demand has the advantage of shedding light on the responsibility of those consciously or unknowingly contributing to trafficking in human beings.  A demand-side focus also promises to shed light on more fundamental flaws of our contemporary political economy that shape market transactions in a way that helps exploitative relationships, including trafficking to occur. The latter in turn raises a series of questions on how such flaws could be addressed through state policies or other initiatives, going well beyond the traditional instruments that have dominated the debate on demand, such as criminalisation or awareness raising.

We are looking forward to interesting, enjoyable, and above all fruitfull, debates over the next three years or so. If you wish to contribute to this debate and want to post a blog, for example, reviewing a relevant study, or looking at a particular debate in Europe or beyond, please contact us.

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