Monday, 02 December 2019
Images of modern slavery, particularly photographs, can create an inaccurate portrayal of what it looks like, according to a new report written by academics from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham.
The project is part of the AHRC/GCRF project ‘The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network’.
The report, ‘Photographing Modern Slavery: Recommendations for Responsible Practice,’ studied the current imagery used to depict modern slavery and found it risks harming anti-slavery work and survivors by creating misinformation and re-exploitation.
Public awareness campaigns or posters often depict people with their hands in chains, yet modern slavery is more likely to occur through coercion and control, making it a hidden problem where people are threatened, held accountable for a debt or have their passports confiscated.
Re-enactment photography – where a photographer constructs a staged image which is based on their understanding of modern slavery – can be dangerous and misleading as it’s based entirely on the perceptions of the photographer not survivors. Another problem, identified by the authors, is compassion fatigue with viewers likely to be paralysed by sensationalist photos, rather than galvanized into action.
Emily Brady, author of the report, said: “If slavery is misrepresented, we cannot educate the public on what to look out for because all they will be seeing are victims who are physically restrained or hunched over a bed or table, often holding their face in their hands to signify distress. Over time these images can also make people less sensitive to the harm endured by enslaved people because they become the new norm.
“To improve our understanding, we need to hear from survivors, who are the best people to assess whether an image is evocative or a harmful stereotype. The importance of survivor voices is one of our key recommendations because they can offer insights and information based on their experiences.”
The report provides a set of guidelines on how to use images responsibly and explains some of the methods employed by four anti-slavery organisations who have produced photographs in a positive way.
The recommendations made in the report include:
- Employing and paying survivors as consultants can help to ensure their views are incorporated in the creative process
- Providing survivors with cameras to document their lives should become common practice
- Informed consent should be a priority, so photographers can avoid exploiting people further
- Creativity and originality should replace stereotypes and staged stories
Public awareness of modern slavery is increasing, and with it the use of anti-slavery imagery. All those working to help end slavery need to recognise the significance of imagery in this struggle. This report offers us ethical and survivor-informed ways to create and publish images.
The report has been published to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on Monday 2 December. It can be downloaded here.
More information is available from Emily Brady in the Rights Lab email@example.com or Nasreen Suleman. Media Relations Manager, 0115 951 5793, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Thank you to all the people from Pag-Asa who carry me towards the light.” - Woman from China.
©PAG-ASA – Hope. Email email@example.com
Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or see the
Globelynx website for how to register for this service.
For up to the minute media alerts,
follow us on Twitter
Notes to editors:
The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the
world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the
TEF 2017 and features in the top 25 of all
three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to
REF 2014. We have
six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer, proud of our Athena SWAN silver award, and a key industry partner- locally and globally.