In 1999, my wife and daughter fled Bulgaria for the United States. The Berlin Wall had fallen ten years prior, symbolically ending the Cold War. The moment represented hope and the idea of democracy for countries that had lived behind the Iron Curtain. But, smaller countries like Bulgaria struggled with the transition. Instead of enjoying the promise of a new beginning, my family crossed an ocean a decade into the post-war era for fear of human trafficking.
Though my family fled nearly 20 years ago, human trafficking remains a global epidemic. Trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in the world: The Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) data estimate there are 46 million people worldwide in involuntary servitude. That’s one in every 162 people. Nearly 60 percent of trafficking victims are women, and nearly 30 percent are children. Not only are the most vulnerable the most common targets, but the trafficking racket is a huge business, generating $150 billion in profit.
Stopping Human Trafficking Requires a Global Effort
The threat of human trafficking has become so grave that international organizations are banding together to thwart its spread. Organizations like the Polaris Project, CTDC, and United Nations are collaborating to stop trafficking. Celebrities are using their clout to raise awareness. Ashton Kutcher founded Thorn, a nonprofit that works with the “sharpest minds” from the technology, non-profit, government, and law enforcement industries, works to “stop the spread of child sexual abuse material and stand up to child traffickers.” Even commercial airlines — realizing a high percentage of trafficking occurs on commercial flights — have signed up for a global, industry-wide program known as #EyesOpen to do their part.
Projects like CTDC, #EyesOpen, and Thorn are opening datasets to the world in an attempt to halt the global epidemic.
For instance, the CTDC has already used data to identify regions across the globe most impacted by human trafficking. Areas like West Africa are rife with trafficking of child slaves to work in mines and fight wars. In Eastern Europe, women are lured into sex work with the promise of a better tomorrow. Today Bulgaria, despite being a small country of just seven million people, finds itself on the list of the countries with the most trafficking victims.
Information about trafficking victims shows most did not know their abductor, and that the majority of victims are females between the ages of 30 and 38. Perhaps most alarming is the global trend in human trafficking: Global trafficking volume has increased over the past decade.
These initiatives are a testament to the power of cooperation and data to do good in the world. But with the capabilities modern data analytics and business intelligence (BI) platforms offer, it’s time technology companies did more. We can use data to promote awareness for tough problems and start conversations about bold solutions.
Information Sharing Is an Important Tool
One problem (technology) companies can help address is the flow of information. The goal is to get as many organizations as possible to say, “We’d like to be a part of this. We want to help.” With data sharing and collaboration, we can work together to identify trafficking hotspots and work toward a solution. For instance, social media data could be helpful in identifying traffickers, and other location-based information might help with the routes traffickers take with their victims.
Imagine if state and local government, together with federal government, and companies across industries came together with a common goal. Leveraging text analysis and risk scoring could be coupled with BI tools to help law enforcement and other organizations limit human trafficking and lend a hand to victims. This is a human problem that impacts us all. It is time we, as companies with resources and sophisticated data analysis tools, as humans who care about one another, came together to fight the global epidemic.
Data Governance and Privacy Remain Paramount to Anti-Trafficking Efforts
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not caution against the misuse of personal data by bad actors. As more companies collaborate to combat the epidemic and the database of personal information grows, the need to protect the people that information identifies also heightens. The Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University has published a guidebook for acquiring good human trafficking-related data. The handbook provides pages upon pages of information about carefully handling personal data. Among the recommendations are:
- “It is important that partnerships be formalised through regular convenings or other opportunities for cooperation, as well as through protocols, such as written agreements and [memorandums of understanding] MOUs. Legally binding contracts will be needed in cases where partnerships involve the exchange of confidential data.
- “Planning ahead and giving consideration to all imaginable outcomes of our work, as well as evaluating our work honestly, including with input from those we serve, are good ways to ensure we are approaching data collection and research ethically.
- “Implement a responsible data policy for your organisation that outlines how you will respect the privacy and preserve the security of those you serve while sharing your work in a respectful and responsible manner.”
Businesses Must Take Action
One organization using information to combat human trafficking is a nonprofit, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR). The organization works with more than 250 companies worldwide to build a “just and sustainable world.” In June this year, BSR announced the Tech Against Trafficking initiative. Tech Against Trafficking will “focus on mapping and analyzing the landscape of existing tech-focused initiatives to tackle modern slavery” and share its findings publicly.
Along with collaborating as part of initiatives, such as Tech Against Trafficking, companies must also perform their due diligence. In order to help the global cause of human trafficking, organizations can:
- Look into their supply chain partners and ensure potential instances of trafficking are reported to authorities. The supply chain extends to digital supply chains, as well. Criminal groups use common apps, like WhatsApp, to communicate with, recruit, and auction slaves then launder the profits from those transactions. The companies responsible for these communications channels should be aware of the problem and find ways to help fight it.
- Build awareness for human trafficking through fundraising events or campaigns that shed light on the growing problem. This can also include employee education programs to ensure everyone at the company is aware.
- Contribute de-identified data directly to organizations like CTDC so that they can expand their human trafficking knowledge bank.
- Donate directly to organizations fighting human trafficking. Here are two lists of organizations.