The Global Diffusion of Law: Transnational Crime and the Case of Human Trafficking

47 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2011

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Date Written: August 16, 2011


This article theorizes and analyzes the diffusion of criminal law globally. The past few decades have seen the proliferation of new laws criminalizing certain transnational practices, from money laundering to corruption; from insider trading to trafficking in weapons and drugs. Human trafficking is one example. How do we understand the fairly rapid move in the past two decades for many countries to criminalize the exploitative transshipment of people across borders? Our argument focuses on the perceived negative externalities associated with human trafficking. A focus on the negative externalities encourages states rationally to imitate the policies of states to whose policies they are especially sensitive. Additionally, the more exposed governments are to media information about the criminal aspects of trafficking networks, the more they are likely to adopt new laws criminalizing the practice. We test our argument about sensitivity to negative policy externalities using GPS data on road connectivity and find that policies of neighbors weighted by the density of trans-border roads clearly and consistently predicts the diffusion of criminalization of human trafficking in national law. We believe these results are in tension with theories of sociological institutionalism to the extent that the latter emphasizes the quasi-rational character of certain manifestations of institutional isomorphism, and suggest a future research agenda that draws on inter-subjective problem definition followed by more rationalist explanations, including competition and externalities, for the diffusion of actual policy adoption.

Keywords: transnational crime, trafficking, globalization

Suggested Citation

Simmons, Beth A., The Global Diffusion of Law: Transnational Crime and the Case of Human Trafficking (August 16, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Beth A. Simmons (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
7817990076 (Phone)

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