Statelessness and Approaches from Anti-slavery Research to Shared Challenges
The recent edition of the Citizenship and Statelessness Review Journal, published by the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at the Melbourne Law School and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, includes a symposium I coordinated focusing on some approaches to modern slavery research that might support efforts to end statelessness. Statelessness is the condition under which a person is not considered to be a citizen of any state under the operation of its law and can be found in many contexts: a particular group might be deprived of citizenship due to ethnicity or national origin; a child might be born stateless due to their parent’s migrant or refugee status or arising from gaps in their birth country’s nationality laws; or the dissolution of a state might create large stateless populations within its former borders. Currently, UNHCR estimates that at least 10 million people globally are stateless, of which one third are children.
While citizenship certainly does not confer immunity from enslavement, the conditions of statelessness increase vulnerability. Among other forms of exclusion, stateless people may not be able to seek secondary education, move legally across borders or work in the formal economy–all restrictions that make them more likely to also experience modern slavery, forced labour, trafficking and child labour. The symposium’s intent was to identify some research methodologies or other analytical tools applied to slavery that might also support research on statelessness with the understanding that these human rights violations are certainly distinct but offer similar research challenges as well as similar paths forward. The four research issues covered in the symposium are:
- Identifying the scale of the problem: Dr Davina Durgana discusses measurement as a central challenge in slavery research and identifies best practices from her work as Senior Statistician at the Walk Free initiative of the Minderoo Foundation that might also be of utility to measure and map statelessness, a strategy of particular importance to evidence-based policy making. Among several methodologies she cites is the use of multiple rounds of cognitive testing in surveys. This allows respondents who may not self-identify as an enslaved person to report details of their work conditions that suggest their experience might represent a situation of modern slavery. She offers this as well as other research practices that may support identification of stateless persons.
- Activating a community response: Dr Alison Gardner and Dr Phil Northall of the University of Nottingham Rights Lab describe a local approach that is based in the ‘place’ in which one finds slavery. A place-based approach to research and policy making recognizes the agency of multiple stakeholders and integrates research, support and policy communities with the lived experiences of survivors. Such an approach, they suggest, might provide communities with options to address the exclusion experienced by many stateless people while developing a meaningful research agenda that is responsive to specific local contexts.
- Understanding the context: Dr Jane Anna Gordon, who teaches Political Science at the University of Connecticut, identifies the importance of engagement with other scholars of race, gender and colonialism in responding to modern slavery and statelessness. Dr Gordon sees the legacy of the ‘racialized debasement of citizenship’ in both modern slavery and statelessness that have lingered into the post-colonial period. Understanding these legacies in slavery and statelessness research creates an opportunity for richer engagement across disciplines in their study.
- Tracking legislative response: Dr Katarina Schwarz, Rights Lab Associate Director and Assistant Professor of Antislavery Law and Policy at the University of Nottingham, and Dr Jean Allain, Professor of Law at Monash University, launched their Antislavery in Domestic Legislation database in February 2020. Slavery and statelessness share the challenge of gaps in implementation of international commitments in domestic law. In their contribution Drs Schwarz and Allain analyse some findings from the database that illustrate the gaps in anti-slavery legislation, noting that activists and policy actors can push for more consistent domestic implementation of international commitments using the legislative patterns identified in the database.
Alice Eckstein is the Modern Slavery Programme Manager at UNU-CPR. Follow her on Twitter: @AliceEckstein
This article has been prepared by Alice Eckstein as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.