Is it possible to set an international benchmark to measure the impact of human trafficking? The Economist created the Big Mac Index in 1986 as an indicator of an individual country’s purchasing power. The Big Mac was selected because it is available in most countries and it is manufactured in a standard size, composition and quality. Burgernomics compares each country’s Big Mac price based on purchasing power parity between nations. So in theory, changes in exchange rates between currencies should impact the price that a local consumer pays for a Big Mac in a particular nation. In other words, hamburgers create a standard and transparent international financial benchmark. Can we find a hamburger in human trafficking?
Human trafficking is also a global commodity – even more lucrative than fast food. Reporting and advisory organisations such as the U.S. State Department and the European Commission recommend using national court data as hard evidence of measurable progress against trafficking. The number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions per country are reliable indicators of anti-trafficking efforts, but are they true benchmarks? Can burgernomics applied to trafficking court data to become a standard transparent international anti-trafficking benchmark?
Measuring successful convictions of traffickers is like measuring an iceberg. The visible tip of the iceberg clearly shows that a country has capability in time, resources, and cost to investigate and has trained prosecution and judicial teams to convict. Collecting court data from countries as an anti-trafficking index seems like a good benchmark. Unfortunately, while icebergs seem transparent, but age and ice compilations show different colors and form deep striations inside the iceberg. For example, circumstances within a country impact its political atmosphere. This may result in a reduction of court processes pertaining to human trafficking as countries focus on refugees, smuggling or other internal issues. In other words, trafficking continues, but convictions stop. The benchmark wobbles and needs to be rationalized. The length of time court processes to unfold also impacts accurate yearly reporting. It is not unusual for a successful prosecution and conviction to take several years from the date of the arrest. Measuring gets even trickier as we hit the waterline of the iceberg. Many stakeholders are swimming underwater and examining the iceberg from a totally different perspective than the reporting organisations. Were survivors well-treated by the judicial system? Did they help in prosecution? Were they awarded compensation and restitution? Was the sentence handed down by the courts commensurate with the crime? Did the convictions uphold human rights justice?
The Big Mac Index is a good financial tool. Court data is a good trafficking indicator within country borders, but may not be comparable across borders. I see no “special sauce” to use court data to create an international anti-trafficking benchmark because human trafficking cases, like icebergs have 90% of their mass below the surface of the water.