Trade Unions, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking


  • Michele Ford University of Sydney



international labour standards, international trade union movement, human trafficking


This article examines the dilemmas facing trade unions seeking to engage on questions of forced labour and human trafficking. The International Labour Organization and elements of the international trade union movement have succeeded in getting forced labour on the policy agenda globally and within many national settings. However, trade unions have limited capacity to effect real change in relation to these issues because of limitations on their influence, determined largely by membership density and the limited number of sectors in which they are present, but also internal assessments of what constitutes ‘core business’. As a consequence, while trade unions may advocate for legislative or policy change, partner with non-governmental organisations to deal with particular cases, or even engage directly with vulnerable populations, the integration of those populations into the day to day concerns of trade unions necessarily remains elusive—particularly in the global south, where forced labour is most prevalent.



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Author Biography

Michele Ford, University of Sydney

Michele Ford is Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research interests focus on the Indonesian labour movement, trade union aid, and trade union responses to labour migration in East and Southeast Asia. Ford is the author of Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, unions and the Indonesian labour movement (NUS/Hawaii/KITLV, 2009) and co-editor of a number of volumes including Women and Work in Indonesia (Routledge, 2008), Women and Labour Organizing In Asia: Diversity, autonomy and activism (Routledge, 2008), and Labour Migration and Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Critical perspectives (Routledge, 2012).





How to Cite

Ford, M. (2015). Trade Unions, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking. Anti-Trafficking Review, (5).