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OFOC Interview with Jessie Brunner and Grant Miller

Updated: May 5, 2022

Written by Clara Stockburger

Edited by Missy Bridgwater and Shathviki Krishnaraj


How do human trafficking markets work in detail? What attributes, in particular, make people vulnerable to exploitation or modern slavery? Not having precise answers to these questions is a hindrance to ending human trafficking.

Professor Grant Miller, an economist based at the Stanford School of Medicine, and Jessie Brunner, Deputy Director of Strategy and Program Development, recognized this issue and wanted to apply their strengths to solve it. Both perceived data-based research to be inevitable for finding solutions because it provides an overview of which approaches and policies work and which do not.

To address this issue, they work at the Stanford Human Trafficking Data Lab, which unites professionals from different faculties and off-campus initiatives to search for new ways of using data. There are data scientists, economists, public health researchers, human rights experts, and more professionals of different backgrounds involved. In her role as Director, Brunner emphasizes the importance of collaboration since bringing different perspectives and different educational backgrounds together is beneficial to creating robust approaches and strategies. Brunner also highlights how the perspectives of survivors are essential to inform their work.

When working at this data lab, the researchers began to work with Luis de Assis, who is the head of Smart Lab that collects data on forced labor and modern slavery in Brazil. They decided that Brazil would be the first country to utilize their lab’s work because they wanted to improve the smart lab headed by Luis. Additionally, due to its large economy, Brazil is a hub for human trafficking and forced labor. Data from their research is used to recognize possible risk factors, networks for human trafficking, and more. The findings are then employed to improve social policies, prosecution, and prevention. Miller and Brunner detail how research in the anti-trafficking field is essential to finding specific root causes that can be addressed and prevented. Although much research has been done in this field, findings have not been deep or thorough enough to make a significant impact.

As for their goals, Miller’s and Brunner’s aim is to show that collaborative research is possible and brings ground-breaking results, especially in the anti-trafficking field. In the long run, they aspire to function as an example for similar projects all over the world. As said by Miller, “What success would look like for us would be inspiring people to try to do work like this in many other parts of the world and successfully demonstrating that it can be done.”


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