27 each day: Understanding and combatting human trafficking

There is not a single country in the world that is not touched by human trafficking. Let that sink in. The number of people victimized by human slavery across the globe is currently greater than the populations of London, New York and Los Angeles combined. This is not a problem affecting people on the other side of the world, it’s one here at home, very likely in our own communities. One that will require collaboration and diverse and innovative approaches to combat.

Joining me today is Renata Konrad, professor of industrial engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who is using her background and experience to explore the role that engineering can play in combatting the complex and growing challenges involved in combatting human trafficking.  

I think the statistic that most sticks in my mind, which speaks to the pervasiveness of the problem, is that the average hipster employs 27 slaves each day, and this was actually the title of an article in The Huffington Post in 2015. This statistically speaks to me because it states the coffee I drink could have been picked by children being trafficked or exploited, the t-shirt I wear could have been made in a sweatshop, the bikes my children ride could have also been made in a factory somewhere under exploitive conditions. So that statistic really speaks to me that this is just a global, pervasive problem that is just ingrained in our supply chains.

Interviewed this episode:

Renata Konrad

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Renata Konrad is an associate professor of industrial engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Konrad’s research focuses on the application of operations research methodologies to social justice issues and healthcare to improve the quality, timeliness, and efficiency of operations. This research includes using optimization and simulation to inform human trafficking awareness campaigns, to locate housing, to understand the relationship between illegal fishing and exploited labor, and to improve access to primary care. Dr. Konrad’s research is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and was featured in the 2019 United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. She has served on the U.S. Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking and on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Science and Technology, Human Trafficking Advisory Committee, and in January 2022 returned from Ukraine where she was on a Fulbright Award. She is a recipient of the Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for innovative teaching. Dr. Konrad earned a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, and her masters degree from the University in Toronto.

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