Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking at the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Presented October 12, 2012, at Fourth Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking, Lincoln, NE


Particularly since the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, academics, policy makers, and the media have come to appreciate the magnitude and scope of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Yet, there exists little empirical work on the subject. In the most comprehensive assessment of the literature to date, the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University concluded that “quantitative methodologies” are noticeably scarce and that “the dominant anti-trafficking discourse is not evidence based.” Part of this is due to the difficulty in obtaining reliable data with which to test empirically falsifiable models. In this paper, we develop a novel measure of modern day slavery that fills this gap. We build our measure based on a research project carried out by Pennington, Ball, Hampton and Soulakova in 2006. Using their insights, we construct a cross-national measure for slavery in one hundred and sixty-one countries for 2010. Next, we test the hypothesis that, among a number of plausible explanations, levels of corruption in each state best explain current levels of slavery. We find that corruption is a powerful predictor. We conclude our discussion with outlining a new research agenda based on an empirical understanding of modern day slavery.