In this paper Ben Rogaly argues that the representations of forced labour that emerged from the 2005 ILO report painted temporary migrants as victims and residualised unfree labour relations.


Temporary migration for agricultural work has long historical provenance globally, and has increased in the most recent period of globalisation. In this paper, using examples based on my own research on both cross-border (to the UK) and internal (within India) migration by workers for temporary agricultural jobs, I raise questions about how such movements, and the labour relations with which they are associated, have been represented in global and regional analyses. The discussion is set within a summary of recent debates over the usefulness of the concept of geographical scale. I use as a case study the ILO’s 2005 report, Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, which makes a clear association between temporary migrant work in agriculture and forced labour in rural Asia. I argue that the representations of forced labour that emerge from the report risk, first, painting temporary migrants as victims, rather than as knowledgeable agents, and, second, residualising unfree labour relations, rather than shedding light on their connections to context-specific and contingent forms of capitalism and capital–state relations.

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