What drew you to anti-slavery research?
Well, I will say serendipity and a deep interest in social justice. Early on, I was fascinated by questions around vulnerability and childhood issues. My interests would later develop specifically around child labour and the silencing of marginalised groups in society. I imagined that a law degree might help mitigate vulnerabilities if effectively mobilised. So, as a first step, I enrolled to study law. After completing this degree, I quickly realised I had zero interest in the everyday life of a lawyer. I then decided on pursuing an LLM in international law drawn by the prospects of working at the UN or becoming a career diplomat. Again, my PhD would later refocus itself around child labour and child trafficking. I am glad the research directed its own course. This was the start of my journey into the anti-slavery space.
Tell us about your professional background
My background is quite varied. Before joining the Wilberforce Institute, I held various positions at the UN and in many universities around the world. In particular, I worked at the UNICEF Office of Research in Florence, Italy, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, Netherlands, Centre for Human Rights in Pretoria, South Africa, Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, and the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham among others. My work with these organisations mostly revolved around researching international law in relation to modern slavery, children’s Rights, and humanitarian law. However, the OPCW was quite a unique one – it had no direct link to modern slavery. It nevertheless offered me a chance to work with lawyers from different legal traditions. As the nature of the role involved international diplomacy and the rendering of legal advice to states parties and the secretariat, it offered me a chance to see international law in action, which also shapes my thinking about anti-slavery governance today. Given the physical proximity between the OPCW Secretariat and the Peace Palace where the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is based, I enjoyed frequenting the ICJ library to do research. The diverse experiences have been quite rewarding.
How does your background inform your current work?
Oh, there is a strong link between my background and what I now do at the Wilberforce Institute and Hull University. I firmly believe that Modern slavery can be eradicated through effective implementation of the law at different levels. Given my law background, I mostly look at modern slavery eradication through the prism of the law and how legal reforms could improve antislavery governance on the ground. Of course, antislavery governance becomes complicated when there are no prohibitions of elements constituting modern slavery. So, part of my work is to understand domestic implementation or lack of it in different countries. Of course, I do also hold a teaching position at the Hull Law School, which aligns well with my academic and professional background.
What do you think are some of the misconceptions about modern slavery?
There’s quite a few of them. That slavery belongs to the past and is non-existent in the modern world or that slavery happens in some distant country at the end of the earth (this thinking is particularly widespread in western countries). It is interesting to mention that based on data from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the majority of victims seeking support in the NRM system are UK nationals. Some also view slavery purely from the perspective of de jure ownership or when victims are shackled. These views are somewhat inaccurate and slavery in the modern sense could take more subtle forms.
What is something people do not know about you?
I am a bit of a runner and a keen boxing and UFC fan.