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Capturing the power of data

Professor Todd Landman has coined a term to characterise the ethos of the Rights Lab: rigorous morality.

For a political scientist with extensive experience of using data and comparative methodologies to examine democracy, development and human rights, getting the science right is vital if such research is to influence policymakers and inform practitioners on the ground.

“Using statistics that are unprecedented in their scope and combining them with a vision of social justice is powerful. That’s what embodies the Rights Lab,” said Professor Landman.

“We’re working on a moral problem; ‘rigorous morality’ is trying to be as rigorous as possible with your methods and yet still addressing value-based questions like torture, disappearance, murder, human rights violations, poverty and slavery.

“The notion of using science for good is a powerful tool for policy engagement. Science is behind it all and when presenting our data-driven evidence, whether it be it to the UK Government or the UN, we must be rigorous, and the more rigorous the better.”

This rigour has allowed the Rights Lab to establish an unprecedented picture of the nature and prevalence of modern slavery, thanks to data collated by a team that includes geographers, sociologists, political scientists, business system analysts, statisticians, ethnographers and survivors of slavery.

For the Global Slavery Index, a monitoring and evaluation team led by Professor Landman assessed the responses of governments to modern slavery. This provided policymakers with examples of good practice, as well as identifying gaps in responses. North Korea’s was the weakest government response to combat modern slavery. The UK was in the top three. The Rights Lab is tracking subsequent legislative responses by governments, and in 2020 launched the Anti-Slavery in Domestic Legislation dataset, led by Rights Lab Associate Director Dr Katarina Schwarz, at the United Nations headquarters. This revealed the widely-reported discovery from the data that nearly half of all countries have not yet criminalised modern slavery.

Thanks to multidisciplinary expertise across the Rights Lab, slavery is being tackled on many fronts. Scholars from the School of Geography use satellites to track slavery from space, through clues such as the prevalence of fish farms in Bangladesh, thousands of brick kilns across Nepal, India and Pakistan, and charcoal factories in Brazil. Combined with intelligence from the ground and citizen science data-gathering, this helps Rights Lab Associate Director Professor Doreen Boyd and her team further map slavery.

Meanwhile, research led by Rights Lab Associate Director Dr Alex Trautrims, of Nottingham University Business School, aims to make UK businesses aware of the economic as well as moral arguments against slavery. By examining supply chains in sectors such as construction, social care and car washes, Dr Trautrims and his team are equipping policymakers to legislate against slavery. Dr Trautrims also chairs the British Standards Committee on Organisational Responses against Modern Slavery (BS25700), serves as a technical expert on the Council of Europe’s Drafting Committee on Trafficking for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation, is a member on the UN Procurement Human Trafficking and Forced Labour Task Force, and is working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to advise States on their measures against modern slavery and human trafficking.

For Professor Landman, the strength of the Rights Lab is its multidisciplinary expertise. “We have about 100 people looking at this, from deep ethnographic research to econometric modelling. No other grouping of scholars in the world has so many different disciplines all facing the same direction and combining their intellectual and disciplinary resources to address modern slavery.”

Todd Landman

Todd Landman is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences, Professor of Political Science in the School of Politics and International Relations and Executive Director of the Rights Lab.

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