Revitalizing Imperialism: Contemporary Campaigns against Sex Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Kamala Kempadoo About the author


In Canada today the issue of human trafficking is high on the public agenda. A variety of activities are included under the rubric, including “homegrown” or domestic prostitution, where crossing either national or internal borders is not a requisite for state definitions of trafficking. Canada does not stand alone in this attention for an expansive definition of human trafficking. Globally, sex work/prostitution, “sex trafficking,” child labour, undocumented migrant labour, and “modern slavery” are integral to hegemonic discourses on “the horrors” of human trafficking. In this paper I look more closely at three prominent campaigns that sustain this discourse and discuss some of the work that these campaigns do. I argue that a closer examination makes visible a twenty first century version of the “white man’s burden” supported by contemporary western, corporate, neoliberal interests, through which the unfettered exploitation and abuse of working people’s lives and labour continues. So, rather than getting to “the bottom of things,” I argue here that dominant discourses on human trafficking tend to obfuscate structural problems and revitalize imperialism in new ways.

Sex trafficking; Modern slavery; Humanitarian campaigns; Imperialism

Núcleo de Estudos de Gênero - Pagu Universidade Estadual de Campinas, PAGU Cidade Universitária "Zeferino Vaz", Rua Cora Coralina, 100, 13083-896, Campinas - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel.: (55 19) 3521 7873, (55 19) 3521 1704 - Campinas - SP - Brazil