Why are we undertaking this research?

9 November 2017

For the last several years, there has been growing awareness, and increased activity, around the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery. There are many overlapping definitions, and so, estimations of the scale of these problems also vary. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 2.5 million people in sexual or labour exploitation worldwide at any one time.

In the UK, government responses have included the establishment of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which provides people exiting from severe exploitation with a 45-day reflection period during which they can decide whether they would like to proceed with charges; and the passage of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. At the same time, there has been a growing civil society response, with some charities expanding their remit to include trafficked persons, and other charities being set up to campaign or provide services around human trafficking or modern slavery.

Faith based organisations - organisations associated with a particular religious tradition or establishment - are increasingly visible in this civil society response. The Salvation Army has been contracted by the government to provide NRM services, while other FBOs provide support for trafficked persons outside of the 45-day NRM period. Despite this growing visibility, there has been little research done on the role of faith based organisations in anti-trafficking.

Understanding the Roles of Faith-based organisations in Anti-Trafficking is a three-year ESRC-funded project that explores faith-based organisations’ (FBOs) growing role in addressing human trafficking and ‘modern slavery’ in England. The project will provide 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.

We will explore the extent of FBOs involvement in anti-trafficking, and whether there is anything different or distinctive about the services they provide. Of course, it is important to remember that FBOs are a diverse group and consequently, so some FBOs may provide distinctive services while others do not. Additionally, researching the role of FBOs in anti-trafficking also provides a way to discuss wider social trends. Is there an increased visibility of faith in the public sphere and in civil society? Are we living in a ‘postsecular’ era?

We are also interested in the growing importance of the third sector in providing welfare state services, like food banks. What are the consequences for society and how we conceive of social rights when charities now provide services once seen as entitlements of citizenship?