Understanding the Role of Faith Based Organisations in Anti-Trafficking

This research will be at the forefront of providing a deeper understanding of changes to the welfare state in neoliberal capitalist societies and the role of religion in the public life of secular societies by exploring how faith shapes anti-trafficking responses. The terms 'human trafficking' and 'modern slavery' have a range of meanings and therefore estimations of their precise scale are contested, but commonly indicate a global growth of these practices.

The International Labour Organization estimates that worldwide, at any one time, there are 2.5 million people in sexual or labour exploitation. These trends indicate an urgency of response and there is growing concern and attention to tackling modern slavery from governments and civil society.

Responses are varied, ranging from international criminal justice legislation right through to local civil society activities. Innovative in nature, this research addresses a significant gap in our understanding of anti-trafficking efforts - the growing role of faith based organisations (FBOs) in anti-trafficking efforts to tackle 'modern slavery' in England. FBOs include 'faith-based NGOs' that offer support to marginalised groups, but also other types of religious organisation from 'apex bodies' that represent faith traditions in the UK (e.g. the Church of England, the Sikh Council UK) to individual places of worship.

The study will provide important new insights into the role of FBOs in three areas: support for trafficked persons; campaigns and public awareness; and government and statutory responses. These areas will be explored through the following research questions:

  1. Who are the FBOs operating in the field of support and provision and what are their roles?
  2. What representations of trafficking circulate in campaigns and public awareness?
  3. Why has there been a growth of FBOs in UK provision and responses to trafficking?

Bringing together the disciplines of Sociology, Human Geography and Religious Studies, the study combines:

  • mapping of faith positions held by anti-trafficking organisations;
  • case studies of service providers across the faith-secular spectrum involving qualitative in-depth interviews with managers, volunteers and trafficked persons;
  • textual and visual analysis of organisational and campaign materials; analysis of Parliamentary debates coupled with interviews with key statutory figures;
  • and international exploration of the anti-trafficking landscape in selected European locations.

The research will consider whether the particular features of the UK case are exceptional by exploring alternative faith/ secular spectrums in anti-trafficking responses in The Netherlands, a secular Protestant country where a prominent anti-trafficking network is based, and Spain, a Catholic country where there are examples of radical faith-based responses.

The project will build a new body of empirical evidence to critically explore our understanding of the role of FBOs in tackling 'modern slavery' in a mixed welfare economy and will maximise the potential for societal and academic impact in this field. The findings will offer significant new knowledge with the potential to improve anti-trafficking practice and help build secure futures for trafficked individuals.

Research beneficiaries and users will be engaged through outputs targeted at specific audiences, to include: practitioner workshops to develop a guide and video for faith-based services to identify the most effective mechanisms for supporting trafficked individuals and designing public communications on trafficking, articles in international peer-reviewed journals and relevant practitioner journals; and a closing symposium to launch the research report and guide. The goal of the research is to influence policy and practice alongside furthering our academic understanding in this area.