Undergrad Clara Rodrigues wins Firestone Medal and Kennedy Prize for trafficking research

Clara with arms folded, standing in a breezeway

Human Rights student Maria Clara Rodrigues da Silva recently won the 2022 Kennedy Prize in Social Science Research and a Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. These prizes are awarded to the top undergraduate honors theses completed each year. Clara earned the awards for her thesis titled, “Differential Treatment of Politically-Connected Labor Traffickers: Evidence from the Brazilian Dirty List of Slave Labor.”

During the summer of 2020, Clara started working with the then-nascent the Stanford Human Trafficking Data Lab, a trans-disciplinary collaboration among faculty and staff from four different Stanford units—including the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. In this role, she has worked closely with Center Director of Human Trafficking Research Jessie Brunner and Visiting Scholar Luis Fabiano de Assis, both members of the Lab’s team.

A Brazilian citizen from Rio de Janeiro, she was a natural fit for the Lab’s work on Brazil, particularly the Brazilian government's "Dirty List" of companies found to have engaged in trafficking and related forms of exploitation. During the Lab’s launch, Clara said, “My coursework in policy and economics has led me to believe that systemic reforms as well as local incentives are essential to achieve economic development and promote social justice — I think the Lab can help achieve both in the anti-trafficking field.”

For her research, Clara obtained, cleaned and coded a large trove of text records from Brazilian anti-trafficking task forces. She then used this remarkable new data resource to study how individuals and companies that violate human trafficking laws manipulate and subvert the Dirty List process to advance their private interests. She demonstrates that companies found violating trafficking laws sharply increase their financial contributions to politicians in the years immediately preceding this discovery – and that those contributing the most are able to avoid being placed on the Dirty List altogether.

In his nomination letter supporting Clara for the Firestone Medal, Professor Grant Miller wrote, “I can’t emphasize enough how ambitious Clara’s honors thesis research is, and I think it faces very bright prospects… of being recognized for breaking new ground in quantitative research on human trafficking, an area in which there has been a paucity of rigorous quantitative research to date. Honestly, it’s difficult for me to imagine how much more an undergraduate could accomplish with an honors thesis project.”

This fall, Clara will begin assume a predoctoral position at Yale University, and she plans to pursue a PhD thereafter. Congratulations, Clara!