“Justice Needs a Hero,” – proudly claims the trailer1 of Christopher Bessette’s 2012 film Trade of Innocents.2 However, this evocation of a savior narrative is precisely what could undermine the director’s noteworthy efforts to introduce important complexity into the discussion of the controversies surrounding global human trafficking. While the film attempts to reveal the structural and systemic underpinnings of the problem, the incessant and permeating reliance on the Western hero trope, in my opinion, is more likely to perpetuate colonial stereotypes3 rather than raise awareness about human trafficking and labour exploitation in general.
In this blog post, I would like to discuss the pros and cons of Bessette’s vision of human trafficking in Trade of Innocents and to offer a critique (hopefully objective) of the choices he makes as a director.
The fact that a rather well-known Tajik pop singer Nigina Amonkulova has released a music video about labour migration[i] highlights the extent to which this issue has become ingrained in everyday lives of millions of people both in Russia and in many of the former Soviet Republics. Interestingly, according to ASIA-Plus, the video was made with the support of International Organization for Migration (IOM).[ii] The description of the video reads:
“A wife who stayed at home [in Tajikistan] learns computer skills and becomes a sole provider for her family.”[iii]
According to 2018 report by Center of Strategic Research, approximately 4 million labour migrants (mostly from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) have been legally arriving in Russia with the intent to work at any given time between 2013 and 2017.[iv] Admittedly, the means by which migrant workers enter Russia and obtain employment are not exclusively lawful. For example, 2017 Trafficking in Persons report indicates that 1.5 million “irregular migrants” are estimated to be engaged in Russian labour market in some form.[v] Certain human rights activists even allege that in Moscow alone there are as many as 3 million migrant workers, with a fair share of them being employed illicitly.[vi] Consequently, a lack of a lawful status in a foreign country is obviously correlated with the individuals’ susceptibility to human trafficking, even in the areas that are not typically viewed as underground labour practices, such as street sweeping.[vii]
In this blog post, I will analyze the factors that put immigrant workers employed in this sector of the labour market at risk of trafficking, as well as attempt to illustrate how Russia’s recent systematic implementation of stricter immigration policies has negatively affected the likelihood of legal employment among labour migrants from the former Soviet Republics.