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Date and Venue

February 22 (Thursday) | 16:30-18:00 JST

In-person at Waseda University

Room 711, Building 19, Waseda University


Event details:


Intermediaries in the form of brokers and agencies are extensively researched in migration studies for their roles in recruiting migrants and facilitating mobility. In this talk I shift the focus from intermediaries in operating mobility to intermediation in the operation of labor markets across borders. This shift in perspective brings the risks that arise from cross-border labor market intermediation into focus. I argue that intermediation shapes the operation of cross-border labor markets in two ways. First, rather than migrants selling their labor power, migrants are ‘being sold’. This is associated with the risk of ‘unfree’ labour. Second, intermediaries position migrant labor in contractual terms (formal and informal) in non-employment relations. This is associated with the risk of ‘work without employment’, i.e. of working without the institutional protections of employment relations. These effects of intermediation on the operation of cross-border labor markets largely explain why migrants are more often exposed to extreme exploitation, no matter how regulated a destination labor market may be. Recent interventions of UN agencies to address the risks of cross-border labor markets ‘managed’ through intermediaries are assessed, including fair recruitment (ILO), anti-trafficking (UNODC), and the global compact on migration (IOM), as well as the recent interaction of these agencies under the sustainable development goals. The argument is that regulations aimed at improving the capacities and protections of migrant labor must address the risks of intermediation in the operation of cross-border labor markets.


Karen Shire holds the Chair in Comparative Sociology and Japanese Society at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where she is also Pro-Rector for University Culture, Diversity, and International Affairs. She is currently Guest Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, The University of Tokyo, and recently Scholar-in-Residence at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, and faculty member in the International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy. Shire is co-speaker of the German Research Foundation funded Research Training Group on Cross-Border Labor Markets at the Universities of Bielefeld and Duisburg-Essen, President of RC02 Economy & Society, International Sociological Association, and Co-Coordinator of Network G, Labor Markets, Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. Her most recent publication is Trafficking Chains: Modern Slavery in Society (with Sylvia Walby), Bristol University Press (2024). She is a member of the editorial boards of Work, Employment and Society, International Review of Social History, and Contemporary Japan.

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