Did you know that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world?
Or that it is generating $150 billion in profits and enslaves an estimated 40.3 million people? 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.
The facts are staggering and horrifying in equal proportions, but the obvious question is what is being done to prevent it? Depressingly, not a great deal, and whilst it is almost impossible to eliminate this scourge completely, there are real and practical things we can all do to help reduce its prevalence. With the help of Liberty Asia, we can shed some light on some of the thinking and the methods that we can use, and on what actions can be taken by society as a whole.
Liberty Asia is an inspirational charity that aims to prevent human trafficking through legal advocacy, technological interventions and strategic collaborations with NGOs, corporations, and financial institutions.
TruNarrative is working with Liberty Asia through its partnership program to offer financial fraud expertise to its different project streams. The charity builds relationships with strategic partners by utilising expertise, skills, in-kind services, and financial support in their fight against human trafficking. The breadth of skill and support they receive from a range of partners worldwide, strengthens the overall impact of their anti-slavery work. This is a cause and a charity that we’re proud to be involved with.
Uses of Slavery
To many people, human trafficking (modern slavery) is thought to be illegal immigrant kitchen staff, or the odd housekeeper; but unfortunately, it’s much more diverse and widespread than this. For example, the fishing industry is often at the mercy of unscrupulous owners, who have been tempted to cut costs by ‘recruiting’ workers for little or no wages on the black market. But once recruited into slavery, victims often find it impossible to break free.
Others are lured to the UK and Western Europe under the pretense of real employment, and often pay a huge fee for their travel and arrangements. Once here, the promise of the well-paid job becomes the harsh reality of forced labour in brothels, sweatshops, construction, agriculture, domestic service, pornography, etc.
However, human trafficking is also a domestic phenomenon, where little or no transportation is required. Victims can be native residents, or even born into slavery.
Whilst we may have a notion that the overlords at the top of the slavery chain are carrying around holdalls full of used notes, this is usually not the case. Slavery certainly doesn’t just operate as a cash-only business, as there is simply way too much money involved. Meaning that at some point, this money is routed through the banks.
From the estimated USD$150 billion of funds (ILO, 2014) generated through slavery; a significant proportion finds its way into the banking system, directly or indirectly, intermingled with genuine funds.
Even at the base level of exploitation, banks are often used. A good example of this is depicted on a HSBC staff training video that shows how a former victim of human trafficking was brought into the UK, beaten and forced to work. A criminal gang then opened a bank account in his name and used it to make a fraudulent loan application, as well as to steal the worker’s wages.
When opening bank accounts for victims like this, the criminals keep hold of their identity cards and passports. Often, they’ll pose as the victim’s interpreters – but they are there only to control them.
The video is part of a series used to educate employees about the human impact of financial crime, and the bank wants to play a leading role in the fight against abuse of the financial system.
This example also shows how victims may well be working in legitimate jobs with wages paid into bank accounts, but their situation and their money is totally controlled by their captors.
Liberty Asia’s aims are to increase awareness of human trafficking throughout the banking sector and to push for more engagement and progress. In short, commitment from banks is crucial to reducing modern day slavery.
The European Bankers Alliance and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have launched a practical toolkit – including ‘red-flag indicators’ and case studies, which will help train staff to spot and report signs of human trafficking. This toolkit will be shared confidentially across the alliance, which was established in 2015 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and includes Barclays, HSBC, Western Union, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Santander, UBS and Commerzbank.
So, whilst initiatives have been launched, we are still in the early days of prevention and far more action is needed by banks, data technology providers, regulators and lobbyists.
Liberty Asia partners with frontline and victim assistance organisations that work within affected communities and are interested in using its products; as well as organisations that offer technology or expertise like Salesforce and Alfresco, who then translate it into useable formats for the frontline organisations.
Liberty Asia is continuously working on many research projects in different industries and geographies with its NGO partners – and regular updates are provided on a confidential basis to a limited group of financial services compliance professionals.
Governments and budgets
More money needs to be directed to the slavery and trafficking problem. Currently far more budget is directed towards drugs enforcement and counterfeiting than it is to anti-slavery. In fact, the US Government spends 300 times more on fighting drugs trafficking than it does on human trafficking. Currently, prosecutions are low worldwide and sentencing is lenient. The situation certainly needs to be taken more seriously than it is at present, but increased deterrents can only happen through increased awareness and pressure for change.
So, what can we all do as businesses and individuals?
On a practical level, there is not enough global awareness of the problem and how to help reduce it. Even as consumers, we sometimes make choices that can assist this vile industry. For example, if we’re receiving goods or services at very low prices, there might be a good reason why. The U.S. Department of Labor has identified 139 goods from 75 countries made by forced and child labour. What’s happening further up the chain? Can we find out? And can it be reported for further investigation?
Clearly the human trafficking and slavery issue needs addressing by numerous bodies and organisations throughout the world, but we believe that there will be little progress unless every one of us gets involved in every practical way that we can.
It begins with increasing awareness across all parties. From Governments, lobbyists and financial institutions, widespread awareness and acknowledgement will hopefully lead to the improvement and allocation of budgets. Law enforcement agencies need better tools and powers. A toughening up on sentencing is required, as is a significantly increased support and protection for victims.
We as the public need to be more vigilant too, being careful what we do and consume can have a bearing on the demand for slave labour.
TruNarrative is honoured to partner with this admirable charity. We sincerely hope that our expertise and resources will be valuable to Liberty Asia, and will play some part in reducing the horrific numbers involved in human trafficking and modern slavery.
Back in 2012, the then President of the United States, Barack Obama put it perfectly when he said,
“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.”
If you’re also interested in helping Liberty Asia, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.