Neoliberal Policies and Human Trafficking for Labor: Free Markets, Unfree Workers?


While the economic benefits of neoliberalism are widely noted, its impact upon human security is contentious, particularly in the area of equity and economic rights. In this article, we examine the impact of free-market policies upon a particularly egregious abuse of human and labor rights, trafficking in forced and child labor. Drawing from relevant scholarship on market liberalization and human trafficking, we posit that policies that promote market deregulation, reduced state size, and global economic openness are positively related to trafficking of child and forced labor. To test these claims, we combine data on three main facets of pro-market policies—a “business-friendly” regulatory environment, reduced state size, and policies favoring global economic openness—with data on human trafficking for forced and child labor. We find that economic liberalization in general significantly increases the likelihood of human trafficking for labor purposes. Our results further suggest that among the three facets of neoliberal policies, a market-friendly regulatory environment has the most significant impact upon labor trafficking. Overall, our results point to a conflict between the universally professed aversion to human trafficking and the dominant neoliberal approach to economic policy.

Publication Title

Political Research Quarterly