Non-Credit Course: The Past and Present of Slavery - Developing a Strategic Response

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The Bonavero Institute of Human Rights is offering a non-credit course on ‘The Past and Present of Slavery - Developing a Strategic Response’ in Michaelmas Term 2020. The course, moderated by Samantha Knights QC, is a part of the Bonavero Institute’s ‘Gateways to Human Rights Research and Practice’ initiative, which aims to deepen student engagement with the institute’s research projects and to provide insights into human rights practice.


Samantha Knights QC is a practising barrister at Matrix specialising in public law and civil liberties with a focus on modern slavery, trafficking and refugee law. She has been involved in a number of recent challenges to policy, law and practice relating to the immigration status, support and accommodation for victims of slavery and trafficking as well as numerous other strategic human rights cases before the courts in the UK and Strasbourg. She is the chair of the Advisory Board of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Miami where she teaches international human rights law. Her new book Law, Rights, and Religion will be published by OUP in December 2020.


The object of the non-credit course is to help students understand slavery’s history and its implications for the present day. The course also aims to introduce students to a distinct set of contemporary issues labelled as 'slavery' and how to develop strategic responses. Finally, it hopes to help students explore related topics for potential graduate research. The course is designed in two parts: the first part will bring together leading historians to introduce students to the history of slavery, contributing to current conversations on the UK’s engagement in the historical slave trade and its continuing impact. The second recognises that modern-day slavery has become a hypernym for a range of practices including extreme labour exploitation and human trafficking. The course will explore the continuities and disjunctures of slavery as well as contemporary strategies to combat trafficking and modern slavery.

It is open to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Oxford. A limited number of places are available.

The seminars will take place online every Wednesday from 21 October to 25 November 2020. A detailed programme is available below:

Introduction and Seminar 1 – The Global Slave Trade from Early History to the Present Day

Wednesday, 21 October 2020, 4:30PM to 6:00PM (Introduction – 4:30PM to 5:00PM; Seminar – 5:00PM to 6:00PM)

This seminar will cover: global history, politics, economics and culture of slavery, the 19th century abolition movement,  definitions; global slavery post abolition, international laws and other instruments in the 20th and 21st centuries, why abolition and international consensus on prohibition failed to prevent slavery going forward, and failed to address the consequences and legacies of slavery.

Seminar 2 – Britain’s Own History of Slavery

Wednesday, 28 October 2020, 5:00PM to 6:00PM

This seminar will cover: Britain’s involvement in slavery – colonial history and decolonisation, enslaver, exploiter but also enslaved, abolition and 20th century international power but denial of the past, eradication of discourse on slavery, education and curricula, politics, foreign policy, international trade and investment, but subsequently engagement in 21st century following the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the desire to combat international trafficking.

Seminar 3 – Slavery & Trafficking in the UK Today

Wednesday, 4 November 2020, 5:00PM to 6:00PM

This seminar will cover: current situation - statistics, causes of trafficking & slavery, the politics and social context; the current applicable legal framework – domestic, European and international, policy and practice; the dichotomy of tackling slavery and immigration policy and the interface with poverty, inequality and finance, corporations and the global economy; the Windrush report and the importance of training and education; requirements for corporations in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Seminar 4 – Policing and Prosecution

Wednesday, 11 November 2020, 5:00PM to 6:00PM

This seminar will cover: role of the police in investigating, and tackling criminal offences relating to slavery, but at same time acting as a first responder for victims of trafficking and slavery; police work abroad in assisting other police forces tackle trafficking and slavery; issues around prosecution of perpetrators, wrongful convictions; liaison with the National Referral Mechanism; conflict in police roles.

Seminar 5 – Protection, Support and Assistance of Survivors

Wednesday, 18 November 2020, 5:00PM to 6:00PM

This seminar will cover: the entitlement to support and assistance as a victim/ survivor of trafficking and slavery; the legal limits and challenges to the support entitlement, issues surround accommodation, subsistence financial support and length thereof, leave to remain and the problem of finding durable solutions without a clear route to settlement; the issue of re-trafficking.

Seminar 6 and Closing – Exploitation, Business and Human Rights

Wednesday, 25 November 2020, 4:30PM to 6:00PM (Seminar – 4:30PM to 5:30PM; Closing – 5:30PM to 6:00PM)

This seminar focuses on ‘Modern Slavery’ as a consequence of business activities and critically examines the link between issues touched on earlier in the course. In particular, we explore how the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 aims to prevent labour exploitation in global supply chains. With an estimated 40.3 million individuals affected around the world, we examine underlying conditions which give rise to exploitation and how exploitation can exist at home and abroad, hidden yet pervasive. It will end with an additional half-hour of led discussion to draw the strands of the course together; thinking about the big issues; about gaps in law, policy, practice and research.

The seminars will be led by both academics and practitioners. There will be no formal mode of assessment but students who are admitted to the course will be expected to attend every seminar. An indicative list of readings will be provided.

Profile of Participants

  • Graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Oxford
  • Demonstrated interest in human rights
  • Availability: Participants must commit to attending all six seminars listed above.


Please send a letter setting out why you would like to participate in this course, together with a CV to Applications close at noon on Monday, 19 October 2020. You will be notified by Tuesday, 20 October 2020 as to whether you have been accepted.

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