One of the main reasons I went to graduate school was to figure out a way to effectively and sustainably prevent human trafficking, specifically in the Americas. While there is a bit of research on human trafficking in the United States, there is not much research on human trafficking in Latin America where a majority of victims in the U.S originate. The Polaris Project just a released a report on trends of human trafficking in the United States. Look at their infographic below. Notice the number two language of victims in the U.S? (I recently wrote about this void in an Americas Quarterly blog post.)

While in Colombia at a regional conference on human trafficking, I was fortunate enough to meet many incredible fellow Latin Americans who are trying to fill this need. I am happily joining them for my graduate thesis research. Starting in February, I will be performing empirical research in Brazil with the incredible support of a Boren Fellowship. I hope to learn why trafficking occurs in Latin America and how we can try to prevent it. (Easier said than done, right?)

Once you start delving into the world of human trafficking, you quickly realize how convoluted it is. It's messy, intertwined, hard to follow and track. Why does it occur? Why do humans traffic humans? Who do humans purchase humans? Why are humans forced into trafficking? Why do we ignore the problem? What type of political, social or economic situations make humans a target for traffickers? And so on and so on. These are not easy questions to answer, but if we want to try to end this monster once and for all, we have to try.

The main cause of human trafficking is the demand for cheap goods and services. Unless we focus on why there is a supply of victims, we will never eradicate trafficking. In order to reduce the demand for cheap goods and services, we have to thoroughly reorient the way we, as consumers, participate in the economy while simultaneously reorient structures of power, namely businesses, to see beyond the bottom line and their own self interest. In the business world, the dominant ideology still prescribes to Milton Friedman’s influential principles in his aptly titled piece, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.

Of course ending the demand for cheap goods and services is a seemingly unachievable task. However, with social enterprises (businesses whose primary purpose is the common good instead of the bottom line) spreading rapidly, could this task be achievable? If so, how would this look like?

As I delve further into these questions, I am looking forward to sharing it with you all.

- Ana Defillo