Slavery today affects an estimated 45.8 million people worldwide, a size comparable to the population of Spain.
Consider that during the transatlantic slave era, 13 million people were savagely sold into bondage, human traffickers earn 30 times more today than they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. On average a victim is sold at a profit of $36,000 (£26,000) and contributes to a global industry worth $150 billion annually. The problem of slavery is not only still here, it is thriving in our modern, rights engaged world.
The six years of fighting in Syria and subsequent refugee evacuation has generated and established what some researchers refer to as a ‘greenhouse for trafficking’ in the 21st century. Now more than ever, in greater numbers than ever before, people are becoming defenselessly vulnerable to the powers of coercion and entrapment set by traffickers looking to capitalise.
Some of the main contributors to this situation of vulnerability are; lack of formal migrant tracking systems (99% of Syrian refugees in Jordan worked without permits in 2015), low immigration acceptance rates leading to smuggling and widespread poverty in camps and other refugee areas leading to risky arrangements in sex work or forced marriage.
Governments like the one in Jordan have been attempting to tackle this overwhelming problem by upping investigations into potential trafficking groups and convicting, increasing the risk level for perpetrators. Officials have also increased referrals to government-run-shelters and have also drafted a national victim referral mechanism alongside anti-trafficking awareness campaigns.
But, what can businesses do to help?
A United Nations think-tank recently published a report accusing the financial sector of not using its full power to fight human trafficking. Tactics such as reporting suspicious credit card activity to seizing assets have been suggested as disruptive methods and are accessible for banks to utilise. What needs to be done now is to make the link between trafficking and its business based frameworks. According to the head of the anti trafficking agency Liberty Asia, a re-framing of slavery is needed as not just a human rights issue, but an issue of illicit business and trade, trackable by monitoring and reachable by intervention.
“Risk assessment maps, due diligence procedures, information sharing and protecting whistleblowers are among the tools available to banks, private investors, credit risk agencies, institutional investors and regulators” Wulfhorst, 2017
It was further recommended that on top of prosecution, asset stripping was another method to disable the trafficker’s networks.These recoveries could be returned back into the pockets of the victims as a way of giving some form of compensation for their suffering and help in getting their lives back on track.
“Integrating financial with criminal investigation would ensure that the closure of one brothel doesn’t lead to the opening of another and the business of trading in humans is systematically disabled” Srivastava, 2017
The data industry can also provide some useful strategies for combatting slavery through finding people at risk, tracking victim identification or location and network disruption.
Risk factors for becoming susceptible to slavery are trackable. Poverty, unemployment, migration and political asylum seeking are all markers for potential abuse. If we can find these areas using data, the right community support and prevention methods can be implemented consequently reducing risk. Trafficking victims who fall into a particular behaviour or spending patterns can be more easily identifiable with software which picks this up in emergency rooms, police stations and even shops. Retail outlets may be able to pick up a victim if they steal essential items such as female hygiene products. Hotels can monitor guest usage and identify recurrent low rate spendings in cash.
Network analysis through online sites where services are sold can also provide a tool for mapping transaction routes. Commonly used sites such as backpage.com and craigslist can be scanned for indicators of sex trafficking through the frequency of posts with similar writing style or underage descriptors. Leading on from this a map of transaction locations can be constructed and intervention measures prepared.
Hotels in Mumbai have been taking matters further by training their staff to look out for these indicators. A new phone app called “Rescue Me” has been launched which connects hotel staff with law enforcement agencies when suspicious behaviour is noticed. Often signs such as a woman’s hesitation, nervousness or reliance on an additional accompanier can be overlooked or ignored by staff who do not have the training or tools to deal with the situation confidently. Small access routes on the ground level could be the difference between stopping a criminal cell or not.
Mexico City is also starting a similar initiative training over 2,000 hotel staff this year in 251 hotels whilst planning to distribute anti-trafficking hotline numbers using plastic bottle tags for hotel rooms.With continued approaches similar to these, businesses can have a tangible and direct impact on the diminishment of modern slavery today.