Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Geography, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California / Los Angeles

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Research Scholar, Center for the Study of Women, University of California / Los Angeles
NGO-Government Collaborations in Japan and the U.S.: Working across Cultural and Institutional Divides to Combat Human Trafficking

How do NGOs and government agencies in Japan and the United States work together and across cultural differences to forward a human rights agenda? This study explores recent collaborations among government officials, international and domestic NGO workers, and police to combat human trafficking to Japan and the United States. lt both compares everyday practices within these two countries and explores the transnational links between them in the context of larger international human rights campaigns. Because the category of human trafficking can be applied to a broad set of experiences (ranging from sexual slavery to coerced organ donation to undocumented labor migration), much contest and debate has surrounded the question of how to define, and thus to work against, "human trafficking ." Based on twelve months of participant observation and interviews with NGOs, government officials, and police in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Manila, this project examines how different groups involved in combating human trafficking understand their roles and find ways to work together across cultural, religious, and institutional divides. It asks: How do NGO workers and government official s negotiate religious, gender, and cultural differences in their interactions? What are the points of agreement around which members of these groups mobilize, and where do tensions develop? How do the different motivations and interests of these groups shape not only interactions among them but also policy outcomes? Mobilizations to combat human trafficking offer a particularly useful lens for exploring the possibilities of human rights collaborations because they require joint efforts among diverse governmental and non-governmental bodies. Since the early 2000s, in part in response to NGO lobbying, the Japanese and l.S. governments have begun not only to draft new anti-trafficking legislation, but also to increasingly collaborate with NGOs in everyday efforts to implement policies. These collaborations include international workshops and symposia, educational sessions for police and government agents, information sharing, and institutional support in caring for victims and prosecuting traffickers. Yet participants in these efforts come from diverse backgrounds- for example, many NGOs are church-based or feminist in their orientation-and they bring different, and sometimes conflicting, objectives to their work. Identifying effective national and international strategies for protecting human rights requires paying attention to the everyday ways that participants from a variety of different national, institutional, and cultural backgrounds work together. This project builds upon previous studies that have explored the international spread of human rights in legislation or as a set of norms by bringing ethnographic attention to the ways that human rights are promoted through everyday institutional practices that involve collaborations in different, yet connected, national and international settings. It also extends recent ethnographic interest in bureaucratic institutions engaged in humanitarian work by considering human rights policy-making and implementation as collaborative international and cross-cultural processes. Focusing on the points of interface among governmental and nongovernmental bodies, this project explores how human rights are promoted through the very practical forms that collaborations take. In doing so, it considers new cross-cultural models for promoting human rights in the U. S. and Japan.