Human Trafficking

In 2011, the Program on Human Rights (PHR) launched its research initiative on human trafficking to address the main challenges and generate new knowledge on this issue of international concern. Working in collaboration with Stanford faculty and students, this project builds on research underway across the university to create a forum on human trafficking. The goal is to produce collaborative research and policy recommendations to better address the multiple dimensions of human trafficking.

"This research collaborative will shift the agenda on human trafficking from one that has adopted a criminal-legal paradigm to one that focuses on all the pre-conditions for trafficking," said Helen Stacy, director of the Program on Human Rights. "Interdisciplinary tools drawing on law, health, gender, and psychology will introduce an integrated approach to this critical area of study."


Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that each year forces millions into lives as prostitutes, laborers, child soldiers, and domestic servants. Traffickers prey on the weak and vulnerable, targeting young victims with promises of a better life. This modern form of slavery impacts every continent and type of economy, while the industry continues to grow with global profits reaching nearly $32 billion annually. In spite of these mounting figures, prosecution and conviction rates are not increasing relative to the surge in these crimes. According to the U.S. State Department, for every 800 people trafficked in 2006, only one person was convicted.

As the size and scope of human trafficking increase, less is known about the root causes of human trafficking on this new scale. A better understanding of the conditions that give rise to human trafficking – income inequality, rural poor populations, cultural norms, and gender disparities – will bring the international community closer to curbing the growth of this criminal industry. Understanding how multi-lateral institutions – from the World Bank to the United Nations – may unwittingly encourage the industry will lead to more informed policies for its eradication.