Volume 19.1 – Bound or Belonging

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Phil Jump looks at modern day slavery in a biblical context

Black has very much been the order of the day at this year’s big screen award ceremonies as Hollywood Alisters joined the growing protest against sexual harassment and exploitation in their particular workplace. This was the latest response to a catalogue of claims and accusations triggered by initial revelations about the behaviour of Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein.

Stories like this raise significant and disturbing questions about the nature of society as a whole, but also reflect some unavoidable realities about participation in the world of work. What has particularly caused outrage is the way in which workplace cultures and structures made it difficult for people to openly challenge what was happening, or convinced certain individuals that they had a right to act in ways that would be unthinkable in any other context.

No-one would deny that it is utterly wrong for any human being, male or female, to be placed in a situation where they feel somehow compelled to accept behaviours and advances that are so unwelcome and deplorable. But why is it that workplaces in particular seem to create such realities?

The two might not initially seem related, but it was while this storm was raging, that I found myself in a management discussion about “intellectual property”. The concern was that employees who had been paid to develop a particular suite of resources could not fully claim these as their own, because they had been operating at the time under the auspices of their employer. The organisation in question would be considered unquestionably honourable, yet the conversation still veered towards assessing people, their time, talents and attributes in terms of them being property that potentially belonged to someone else. I could not help but sense a chilling parallel with some of the narratives that have emerged from the Weinstein scandal about the way in which young, attractive and aspiring actors were considered to be the “property” of those with the power to make them famous.

And while we might rightly protest at such ideas, the reality remains that workplaces often rely on being locations where people are willing to do things that they might otherwise not. Most of the time, this will be nothing more innocuous than putting up with tasks that are mundane and repetitive because it “pays the bills”, wearing a suit when we would probably be more comfortable sporting a…

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