Most human rights practitioners and scholars agree that corruption creates the environment in which human trafficking occurs, facilitating the exploitation of millions and allowing perpetrators to commit crimes with less fear of punishment because they know they have weakened the rule of law. While various studies support this conclusion, we highlight the need for further research, particularly that which considers and gathers new data sources and encourages new forms of collaboration. There is research indicating that corruption occurs at every stage of the trafficking process and takes both passive and active forms. Much of existing research is drawn from case studies, anecdotal evidence and regional studies, and is not comprehensive enough to draw detailed conclusions about the nexus between human trafficking and corruption on a global scale, or to pinpoint decisively how and where corruption occurs most frequently in a given country. Examining measurement tools of human trafficking and corruption, we find that, while correlation between several of the most recognized measurements exists, some datasets are self-reinforcing and there is a need for more robust indicators, and ultimately more is required to determine the extent of causality.
Through a review of literature and interviews with anti-trafficking stakeholders, we found general consensus that data on the connection between human trafficking and corruption is thin. More evidence is necessary in order to better inform our understanding of how these issues interrelate and support the development of targeted policies and strategies. In this paper, we asked why does current research and data on human trafficking and corruption remain limited? Collecting data on illicit actions that are purposefully kept hidden is inherently challenging, as victims and perpetrators are often afraid to speak out due to the consequences doing so could have for them personally. Additionally, the media, whose investigative work is important in bringing corruption to the light of the public eye and demanding accountability, often face high risks to their own security when investigating corruption, and may focus on high-profile stories while missing “everyday” corruption, which may be more relevant. Many are also bound by the legal and political climate they work in, which may mean limited press protections and freedom of speech. There is also a lack of systematic data collection on the human trafficking-corruption nexus from public institutions, who are not keen to highlight corruption within their own ranks, and few NGOs and service providers, who are uniquely placed in their ability to communicate directly with victims, are proactively collecting information on corruption. Data sharing and aggregation also present significant challenges. There is often a lack of communication amongst public institutions within a country and across borders, and harmonizing data from different sources proves difficult. The benefits of data collection, however, remain limited if not accompanied by the ability to aggregate, store and analyze this data.
These challenges help account for the limited response to calls for further research on corruption and human trafficking. While legitimate, we argue they should not be considered insurmountable, if indeed the international community believes that corruption forms a necessary and important piece of the environment in which human trafficking takes place. Our paper concludes by asking what is needed for progress to be made in developing data on this nexus? In particular, we highlight the role played by governments, the media, NGOs, service providers, and international organizations, and the leadership and political will required. We also consider what types of sources could prove most useful, recommending a research approach that expands the universe of data signals identified as proxies for corruption, and highlighting key areas to focus research efforts. Finally, we emphasize the need for collaboration in order to improve sharing and aggregation of data from multiple sources, and the importance of developing good governance that is supported by infrastructure and transparency.
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