Keynote 3: Evidence will not be enough: How politics bends practice and what to do about it.
We are now in the third year of the global Covid-19 pandemic. During the early stages of the pandemic everything was murky. Reliable evidence was in short supply. Researchers sprang into action, producing a tremendous amount of new information. We are now in a position where there is a strong evidence base – and effective vaccine – yet it has proved difficult to translate evidence into practice due to the effects of entrenched interests, ideologies, and disinformation. This paper draws upon these recent experiences with Covid to reflect upon the practical limits and political challenges associated with translating evidence into effective action in relation to forced labour, child labour and human trafficking. I am particularly concerned here with way in which the emergence of the concepts of human trafficking and modern slavery have impacted policy and practice. Since the late 1990s various shortcomings within the MS/HT field have been excused or minimised because the field was ‘new’, and there still ‘wasn’t enough evidence’ available. These statements were never entirely persuasive, but they have become increasingly hard to sustain in recent years owing to the volume of new information that has been generated. There is no question that further evidence is tremendously useful, but there also has to be a point where we face up to the fact that the key bottleneck here is not evidence but politics.