The concept of “power” is frequently used but rarely is understood in all of its intricacies. How often in academic literature, political debates and even personal conversations do we ascribe power to a person or group without really discussing what this entails? In what ways is power expressed and how do we know when a person or group has power? Within the anti-human trafficking movement it is easy to fall prey to feelings of powerlessness. In our efforts to confront this global atrocity, the power of states, the power of the global economic system and the power of traffickers themselves may all seem superior to any power we possess. I would strongly argue, however, that the power of the anti-trafficking movement is quite formidable, especially if we know where to look.
Joseph S. Nye, a Harvard professor, famously introduced the concept of soft power and hard power into the academic and political worlds during the late 1980s, and suggested that power is not simply the capacity to coerce others into behaving in a certain manner such as through military force and economic strength. Rather, power also entails the capacity to attract and persuade others into behaving a particular way. While Nye focused his astute analysis primarily on states, we can extend this way of looking at power into the anti-trafficking movement. No one would ever argue that the movement possesses sufficient hard power to bring about positive changes. Chab Dai is certainly not going to threaten a state with military strikes, nor is any other nongovernmental organization. Instead, the anti-trafficking movement excels in the use of soft power and, in this sense, our power is continuously growing.
In a multitude of contexts, through various public and private campaigns, the movement has produced positive changes in the fight against human trafficking. Take, for example, the U.S. TIP Report; while it is certainly produced and enforced by a state, it arguably would not exist at all if not for the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement. In order to create this revolutionary tool (putting aside arguments about its effectiveness or shortcomings), it was necessary to first persuade American politicians to enact appropriate legislation. This was not a victory due to the hard power of the anti-trafficking movement; the TIP reports are the direct result of the development and effective use of soft power. Not convinced? Numerous companies are now attempting to certify that their supply chains are “slave free.” This is remarkable, considering the fact that the exploitation of workers can often be concealed by major corporations fairly easily.
Moreover, the use of exploited labour can potentially offer significant savings in labour costs for the company. Nevertheless, the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is producing positive changes (check out FreeTheSlaves for more details). Still dubious? Thanks to the magic of “Google trends” we can see that “human trafficking,” as a search term, has steadily increased since 2004. Why does this matter? It shows that people are becoming more interested in the issue. While this clearly does not constitute an academic study, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is attracting or persuading greater numbers of people of the worthiness of our cause. After all, more and more people are choosing to educate themselves on the issue, and global support is needed to effectively fight this global problem.
So the next time you find yourself wondering if we really stand a chance against the power of those who promote or benefit from human trafficking, take a closer look around at the victories being won due to the soft power of the movement. While Joseph S. Nye may argue that soft power brought down the Berlin Wall, I would argue it can also end human trafficking.
By Tyler Girard, Strategic Planning Officer for Chab Dai