Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


International Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Laura Gomez-Mera

Second Committee Member

Bruce Bagley

Third Committee Member

Roger Kanet

Fourth Committee Member

William Smith

Fifth Committee Member

Layna Mosley


Although slavery was formally abolished in most countries decades ago, labor exploitation persisted without notable governmental efforts to address it. However, some countries have recently begun to adopt policies to reduce labor exploitation. This study investigates influences on policy change in the case of Brazil, a country that experienced drastic policy evolution in a short span of time. For years, the Government had denied the legitimacy of slave labor allegations. However, beginning in 1995, the Government of Brazil changed course, adopting policies that are now emulated abroad. This remarkable transformation is rather surprising considering the country’s history and reputation regarding both traditional and contemporary forms of slavery. What influenced this break with the past? To answer this question, I examine the processes leading to two policies that form the basis for Brazil’s characterization as an example for other countries to follow: the Special Mobile Inspection Units and the Dirty List, implemented in 1995 and 2003, respectively. I argue that the decisions to implement these policies reflected the confluence of normative and material pressures applied from above and below. However, the relative importance of each pressure varied at different stages: normative pressure was more important in early stages, whereas material pressure had a greater impact in later stages. Normative pressure, anchored in the domestic arena, served as a crucial precursor. By changing Brazilian notions of acceptable behavior, it shifted the context in which subsequent material pressures operated. The salience of external economic pressures thus increased when they intersected with broader national acceptance of norms condemning exploitative labor. I also offer four main mechanisms to explain how these factors influenced policy adoption and implementation in Brazil: norm sensitization, encouraging accountability, activating reputational concerns, and targeting economic vulnerabilities. Operating through these mechanisms, normative and material pressures jointly generated the conditions for policymakers to move Brazil from violator to champion in the fight against labor exploitation.


labor exploitation; forced labor; human trafficking; child labor; Brazil; political economy