• Carr Center for Human Rights Policy


Neha Bhatia giving her PAE presentation

At the Harvard Kennedy School’s 2024 Class Day Awards on Wednesday, May 22, Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse announced Neha Bhatia as the winner of the Carr Center Prize for Human Rights for her Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) entitled, “Reaching for Remedy: Improving Remediation Under the U.S. Forced Labor Import Ban.” 

Neha Bhatia is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she studies the intersection of migration and labor policy. Before coming to the Kennedy School, she managed a $100 million humanitarian education project for Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street. At Sesame, she oversaw media-based early childhood education initiatives for displaced children Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Colombia, and Kenya.

 Previously, Bhatia led field logistics and data management for an atrocity documentation project in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She began her career in this sector conducting refugee resettlement interviews in Jordan and teaching workforce development trainings for newly arrived immigrants in Boston, and graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University with a B.A. in International Relations and Arabic. 

Bhatia’s focus on labor migration initially stemmed from a class on International Labor Migration that she took at Harvard Law School. “I am compelled by the connection between labor and migration. People move for work, people who move seek work, and people on the move are most vulnerable to labor exploitation,” she said. During a subsequent summer internship with the Solidarity Center’s Migration and Forced Labor team, Bhatia learned about the challenges that migrant workers experience every day: the exploitation of their unique vulnerabilities by their employers, and the barriers they face in reporting forced labor or joining a union to improve their conditions. 

“I deeply respected the Solidarity Center’s theory of change in addressing forced labor through collective action, unionization, freedom of association, and building worker power,” said Bhatia. “I wanted to work on a PAE that supported their vision for migrant workers’ rights and explored the link between wage theft and forced labor.” 

Her PAE work began with in-depth research on the critiques of Section 307 implementation and the best practices for remedy to understand where the law currently stands. “I interviewed more than 25 individuals who engage with the import ban from various angles: people at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, labor rights advocates, civil society groups, academic researchers, and more,” she said. After the interview process, Bhatia returned to her research, performing a comparative analysis of the responses received and attempting to clarify differing opinions among interviewees. 

Excerpt quote from Neha Bhatia's PAE

The research and interviews performed for her PAE were eye-opening, revealing the globalized capitalist economy that benefits from forced labor practices. “By the end of this project, I understood much more clearly that forced labor is a feature—not a bug—of globalized supply chains. Firms that are maximizing for profit and growth will put pressure on suppliers, who in turn are incentivized to hire and exploit vulnerable workers, pay unlivable wages, and maintain abusive working conditions to cut costs,” said Bhatia. “Forced labor exists in every sector, in every country. As a result, any work that only addresses the worst forms of forced labor is missing the broader picture of capitalist exploitation and depressed labor rights underlying such practices.” 

But how do we even begin to address such a deeply entrenched and worldwide issue? “If we want to address forced labor, we should be looking at the conditions that lead to it and actively investing in improving freedom of association, collective bargaining, dignified work, and livable wages,” said Bhatia. “This project gave me a chance to see how several organizations consider forced labor a category to address within their broader strategy of advocating for labor rights, and I was humbled to have the opportunity to learn from their approaches.” 

Bhatia would like to thank her advisor, Professor Doug Johnson, for his mentorship throughout the PAE process. “He doesn’t miss a single typo or inconsistency and is quick to pull me from lofty idealism to strategy and pragmatism with kind, thoughtful guidance,” she said. “Thanks as well to Professors Kathryn Sikkink and Zoe Marks for asking wonderful questions and giving helpful advice as seminar leaders, and to my client, Neha Misra at the Solidarity Center, who initially proposed this topic and has been a source of wisdom, enthusiasm, and expertise throughout the process.” ⬥