Taking Action Against Human Trafficking on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
As we observe the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on December 2nd, it’s important to remember that modern slavery is a complex problem that takes many forms. It is an illicit trade that affects the world’s most vulnerable people – people who are bought, sold, and exploited for profit every day.
Slavery and trafficking thrive where there is instability. Sadly, recent events like war, the pandemic, and climate change have severely aggravated these conditions. Back in 2016, there were an estimated 40 million people living in slavery. A more recent estimate by the International Labour Organization suggests that there are now 50 million people in the world living as modern slaves.
When I worked at Salesforce, I volunteered with many front-line anti-trafficking organizations around the world, and I saw the scale of the crisis and its human impact first-hand. In 2017, I attended a small conference of government representatives, civil society leaders, and tech company volunteers from around the world. Its purpose was to assess the role of technology in tackling modern slavery and identify ways to improve our impact. The conference exposed just how poor our collective response to the crisis had been so far, and how technology’s core benefits had not yet been realized. At that event, the Tech Against Trafficking coalition – a collaboration across several major technology companies, including Salesforce – was born.
The goal of this coalition is to work with organizations of all kinds around the world to advance and scale the use of technology to both disrupt and prevent human trafficking. Technology is not always an appropriate tool or intervention. Indeed, applied incorrectly, it can cause a lot of damage. But when it’s used thoughtfully and in collaboration with anti-trafficking experts, technology can be a game-changer.
Today, hundreds of anti-trafficking NGOs around the world use Salesforce to manage care records for victims and survivors of human trafficking. It’s probably the most widely used cloud platform for managing these types of records. Modern slavery helplines, as well as frontline organizations providing long-term rehabilitation and reintegration support, use Salesforce every day. Security, low cost, and low-code development capabilities are key reasons why Salesforce remains popular in the sector.
In the years since that conference, I have continued to provide technological support for organizations tackling human trafficking and slavery. Recently, there has been a flurry of innovation and exciting advancements in anti-trafficking technology. Some organizations are using social media and apps to connect with vulnerable communities. Others are using satellite data to identify potential hotspots of exploitation. A few are even using machine learning models to identify previously undiscovered patterns and connections that can help target resources more effectively.
But what could our anti-trafficking response look like in five years’ time if we utilized technology to its maximum potential? How can technology be used to improve our collective response to human trafficking and make us more than the sum of our parts? Slavery and human trafficking do not observe borders or walls. It’s a crime that thrives on poor international cooperation and weak collaboration. So how might we develop the “connective tissue” necessary between organizations around the world to automate processes and provide access to real-time insights that we could use to target resources more effectively? How can we ensure data privacy and ensure survivors have control of their own data? These are not easy questions to answer.
Part of Tech Against Trafficking’s remit is to support frontline organizations’ use of technology on specific projects and programs via its accelerator program. But we also hope to nudge the sector, so its collective use of technology becomes more impactful. This is partly done by strengthening the development of open-source technologies, encouraging best practices, and supporting the development and adoption of open data standards to enable better interoperability.
We urgently need to increase the size of our community of tech experts to support this journey. Tech Against Trafficking will be recruiting volunteer tech experts for its latest accelerator program shortly. To express your interest and join the effort, sign up here.
About the Author
Phil Bennett is an independent technologist supporting organizations that fight human trafficking and slavery.
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