Trafficking: A Development Approach

38 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2019 Last revised: 4 Dec 2019

See all articles by Prabha Kotiswaran

Prabha Kotiswaran

King's College London - The Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: October 8, 2018


Almost twenty years since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, anti-trafficking law and discourse continue to be in a state of tremendous flux and dynamic evolution. While the efficacy of using criminal law to tackle an irreducibly socioeconomic problem of labour exploitation was always suspect, scholars and activists alike sought to remedy the excesses of a criminal justice approach by articulating a human rights approach to trafficking. Arguing that this did not go far enough, labour law scholars called for a labour approach to trafficking in order to forefront the role that a redistributive mechanism like labour law could perform in supporting the agency of workers to counter vulnerability to trafficking. Since then, trafficking has evolved into a development issue with the articulation of Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 around which international organisations have mobilised considerable resources. Influential actors believe that bringing development to countries of the Global South will help them eliminate 'modern slavery'. My paper instead builds on the critique of the developmental project to elaborate on the key elements of a development approach to trafficking, one which is rooted in the realities of the developing world and which recognizes the fundamentally different configurations of the state, market, civil society and legal system in the Global South. Using the example of India, I argue that conventional regulatory responses to 'trafficking' and 'modern slavery' must be fundamentally rethought and that an uncritical reliance on a criminal law approach to trafficking must be replaced by efforts to implement domestic labour and social welfare laws which are themselves the result of long-term struggles for decent work and against extreme exploitation.

Keywords: SDGs, SDG 8, SDG 8.7, trafficking, modern slavery, development

Suggested Citation

Kotiswaran, Prabha, Trafficking: A Development Approach (October 8, 2018). Faculty of Laws University College London Law Research Paper No. 4/2019, King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 2019-32, Available at SSRN: or

Prabha Kotiswaran (Contact Author)

King's College London - The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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