The Critical Role Tech Will Play in Eradicating Trafficking

By Salesforce.org | July 30, 2021 | , , , | Mission Driven Companies, Nonprofit

Technology, when used for good, can change the world. That’s something that we wholeheartedly believe, and it’s a driving force in the work of our customers and partners. As a social impact center of Salesforce, our focus at Salesforce.org is to build powerful technology for, and with, our community of nonprofits, mission-driven companies, and education institutions. Our tech solutions are designed to help world-changing nonprofits — like those supported by Tech Against Trafficking (TAT) — to maximize their impact and drive long-lasting change.

Today is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a day to spotlight the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking. Technology has an important role to play in solving the world’s biggest issues, but for trafficking in particular, technology is a foundational piece to solving the problem — for everything from tracking offenders to supporting the survivors who are critical to developing a more victim-centered solution.

We talked to Tríona Byrne, Senior Director of Global Strategic Relations at Salesforce, who leads Salesforce’s membership in Tech Against Trafficking, about the life-saving work of the organizations they’re supporting and what they’re doing with their partners across the world, the devastating effect of COVID-19 on trafficking, and the role that technology will play in solving it.

Woman listening to another person and taking notes
The theme of this year’s World Anti-Trafficking Day is all about listening to and learning from survivors and creating a more victim/survivor-led approach.

Can you tell us a bit more about Tech Against Trafficking and its mission?

Tech Against Trafficking was born out of a meeting at Wilton Park which brought together 60 stakeholders from key sectors — including policy makers, law enforcement, business, civil society, and academia — for an expert exchange on the creative uses of digital technology in tackling modern slavery.

From this, a coalition of tech companies came together to work with global experts and survivors to help eradicate trafficking using technology. There are more slaves today than at any other time in history — estimated at over 45 million. As a roughly $150 billion industry, it is the fastest-growing international crime after the arms trade. It surpasses the drug trade purely because people can be bought and sold more than once.

We believe that technology, when used for good, presents a massive opportunity for the anti-trafficking field. Technology can help connect disparate actors across geographies, share data to facilitate the identification of victims and traffickers, improve case management and survivor care, and raise awareness in at-risk communities.

Salesforce is an inaugural founding member — thanks to Phil Bennett, who is now an independent technology consultant for the anti-slavery sector — and works closely alongside the other member companies Amazon, BT, and Microsoft with Business Social Responsibility as our Secretariat. We also have an incredible advisory group of researchers and experts in this field. It is our mission to work across sectors and borders to close the gaps on information and support and create technology solutions that disrupt and reduce human trafficking.

How are you combating trafficking?

Collaborating for freedom is a complex and multifaceted process. Our first step was to map the landscape of existing technology tools being used to combat human trafficking. Together with partners, we identified over 300 anti-trafficking technology tools across a wide range of geographies, target users, and focus areas.

We published findings from our landscape analysis in an interactive map on the Tech Against Trafficking website and partnered closely with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to put out a seminal publication last June on the use of technology to fight human trafficking.

For our inaugural accelerator in 2019, our members and advisors worked with the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), an initiative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to explore and promote best practices around data anonymization, privacy, and security.

Last year, to address COVID-19 fallout, we partnered with Freedom Fund to give more hands-on technology support to anti-slavery organizations on the ground. Key strategic partnerships are a requisite to moving the needle on this crime. Being challenge-led rather than solution-led is also key, and you have to ensure the person being or potentially being exploited is at the centre of every decision you make. I was delighted to see that the theme of this year’s World Anti-Trafficking Day is all about listening to and learning from survivors and creating a more victim/survivor-led approach.

Salesforce technology is used by a large number of anti-trafficking organizations across the globe for things like tracking offenders, modern slavery helplines, and case management solutions for managing trafficking case information. Some organizations cover the full lifecycle of data collection, from program setup to documenting survivor stories, while creating logic models to help understand and measure their impact.

Criminal being arrested by police
Technology can help connect disparate actors across geographies and to share data to facilitate the identification of victims and traffickers.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected trafficking globally?

Cases examined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that at least half of victims of trafficking were targeted because of economic need. Poverty, limited access to education, limited choices, unstable political and social climates, economic imbalances, and war have always played a huge role in trafficking — so add on a global pandemic, and you get the picture. The crime didn’t go away with the pandemic, it just went more underground.

At Tech Against Trafficking, we identified five key trends originating from COVID-19 that are creating profound consequences for the anti-trafficking field.

  1. Economic stress on families leading to increased vulnerability
  2. Rise in online sexual exploitation of children
  3. Spikes in violence towards victims of trafficking
  4. Jobs and in-person services (like childcare) for survivors are no longer available
  5. Interrupted financial support to anti-trafficking organizations

Tech Against Trafficking just launched its second Accelerator Program — what is the goal of this program? How can organizations become a part of it?

Through the Accelerator Program, we’re taking strides to help leverage the use of technology to combat human trafficking by helping individual organizations effectively utilise and deploy technology to advance and scale their work. Simultaneously, we’re focused on creating the connective tissue to bring together organizations and technology tools operating across the anti-trafficking sector and lead them to systems-level change.

We are very excited for the 2021 Accelerator, where we’ll be joined by two incredible organizations Unseen U.K. and Seattle Against Slavery. Over the next nine months, our member companies will work with participating organizations on a number of different focus areas, ranging from the optimization of data infrastructure systems to the evaluation and innovation of sustainable business models for technology products and platforms.

Seattle Against Slavery is an organization dedicated to combatting labor and sex trafficking through education, technology, and justice and accountability among men. Unseen UK is an organization dedicated to eradicating modern slavery. It runs the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline and Resource Centre as well as the Unseen App, both of which provide victims and the public with access to information and support on issues related to human trafficking and exploitation on a 24/7 basis.

What can people do to get involved and support the fight against trafficking?

Tech Against Trafficking is very keen to hear from any of the following organizations that are committed to leveraging the power of technology to tackle human trafficking: technology companies, law enforcement agencies, nonprofits, survivor groups, and academic institutions. Visit Tech Against Trafficking for more information on getting involved.

Awareness is crucial to ending trafficking, and one small but impactful way we can all make a difference is by being conscious of our decisions as consumers. Trafficking and slavery is deeply embedded in almost every supply chain at some point, so educating yourself about companies that are ethically-minded and trustworthy can make a huge difference.

Learn more about how you can make an impact on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and read about the importance of tech companies and governments getting data privacy laws right.