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Jun 18, 2018

In Episode 7 we talk about the perpetrators of slavery with Austin Choi - Fitzpatrick, author of What Slave Holders Think - How Contemporary perpetrators rationalise what they do.

00.00 - 06.06 

  • Discussion of what drew Austin to research the perpetrators of slavery: not enough known about them and their relationship with the people they hold in slavery. Also important to consider the role perpetrators play both in the enslaving and freeing of people
  • Explanation of bonded labour in India, a practice where perpetrators are violating human rights but not local norms and where they don't see themselves as criminals, so the practice is in plain view
  • Todd refers to the well known Star Trek Prime Imperative (Directive) to suggest a possible metaphor for how how Austin approached interviewing the perpetrators of slavery
  • Austin says going in and labelling people immediately would have conversations to an abrupt end and explains how he took account of people’s own experiences and lives in his approach.
  • Using open ended questions about local issues: the climate, government, local law enforcement and relationships with local labour and advocacy groups in the community, helped him develop a picture of the nature of modern slavery
  • He avoided the use of abolitionist language and tried to learn more about how perpetrators see themselves 

06.06 - 10.30 

  • Todd asks how Austin came to be accepted by the local community and built trust and rapport
  • Austin explains how he discounted snowball sampling as a method and instead used a Leapfrog method - when he found people he believed to be perpetrators he got them to refer him on to others who were also involved with bonded labour
  • It was a challenge to work out if perpetrators were telling the truth Austin did by triangulating what he was told ‘on the fly’ to see which bits added up and which bits didn’t.
  • Austin describes how he grew his beard because that seemed to confer additional spiritual status within the community and shared his own family experiences as a grandson of a farmer to establish his credibility
  • Todd summarises this as a rapport and empathy approach 

10.30 – 17.20 

  • Austin explains he interviewed 40 perpetrators and 20 victims/survivors for his research and describes the main insights he gained were around
  1. A sense of lost relationships with their workers who they felt earlier had been members of their family
  2. A sense of lost respect of their workers that they had earned from relationships.                                                                Austin says it may have been a façade but found the choice of language was really interesting and what he was least prepared for
  • Todd then asks Austin to say more about the relationship between perpetrator and slave
  • He says that commonly the exploiter would be on the edge of the community or circle not separate from it (as for example a trafficker) and that then raises the issue of how people live together post emancipation
  • Todd makes a comparison with community courts called Gacaca in Rwanda which leads on to a discussion about issues surrounding reconciliation within communities, and what restorative justice looks like
  • Todd then asks if, once uncovered, perpetrators stop the practice
  • Austin says in some cases that depends on access to capital and cash either, to go into legitimate business or to use their status and connections with the police as a credible threat to the labour force and to carry on as before 

17.20 - 19.60 

  • Discussion around what motivated the perpetrators and how they rationalised what they were doing
  • Austin explains in many cases perpetrators had inherited the situation of control but were asking themselves why they would continue given the negative political impacts and whether they wanted to be seen as perpetrators of slavery - there is also a suggestion that for many there are few alternatives to the status quo
  • Austin then makes the point that there is not enough known about what it takes to come out of abusive relationships not least of all for the perpetrators – he adds it needs both victims and perpetrators to work together to reach some form of attributive justice
  • Todd references the work of Bill Simmons discussed in Series 1 of The Rights Track and his upcoming book Joyful Human Rights which raises the idea that human rights abuse victims also have a normal side to the lives they lead and comments that this is also the case for perpetrators or abusers 

19.60 - 24.52 

  • Todd wonders if Austin's research in India is applicable elsewhere
  • Austin suggests that it applies where labour exploitation is embedded in cultural practices e.g. India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh
  • In broader terms he says he is dealing with violation of human rights but not social norms and in stepping outside of the slavery context he recognises that social change means that current behaviours can become unacceptable - one question he raises is how we deal with behaviour that was once acceptable, and no longer is
  • He makes a final point about the way we all find ways to excuse exploitive
  • Todd highlights how our view of Human Rights principles is evolving, and how human rights terminology isn’t necessarily recognised by local communities
  • He closes by focussing on Gramsci’s notion of false consciousness in which people didn’t know they were being exploited or accepted they were perpetrators


Further links and resources