11 Aug 2017

Tech against modern slavery

By Dama Sathianathan

Last week we held a special Tech For Good meetup partnering with FreeD to mark World Day against Trafficking in Persons (30 July) and explored how tech can be used to tackle modern slavery. This year’s theme “Act to protect and assist trafficked persons” fits in neatly with trying to map out what tech solutions exist to address modern slavery.

Modern slavery today

Researching the topic and what is known on the impact of human trafficking, we were confronted with staggering statistics that highlight how deeply rooted modern slavery is and how human trafficking seems to go unnoticed, despite constituting the 3rd largest crime industry worldwide. According to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2016), children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide. Large mixed migration movements of refugees and migrants and the significant impact of conflict and natural disasters over the last years have certainly shed more light on modern slavery. Though, a recent report from the National Crime Agency revealed that the true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK is far more prevalent than previously estimated, with alleged victims of labour and sexual exploitation as young as 12 years old.

Livelihoods to alleviate the risks of re-trafficking

The night kicked off with a talk from FreeD co-founder Siavash Mahdavi, a social enterprise with a mission to support and upskill disadvantaged women in India, giving us a bit of context in which FreeD operates. An estimated 14 million people in India are victims of human trafficking, with 600,000 to 800,000 trafficked across the borders every year. Over 70 per cent of them are women and girls, who are sold into working in brothels to a great extent. Exposure to human trafficking is rather substantial, with 40 per cent of rescued trafficking victims re-trafficked. Siavash believes that education is key to prevention and this is where FreeD’s work comes into play. FreeD primarily works with survivors of trafficking or women and girls at high risk of being trafficked. They teach them skills to 3D print jewellery, utilising this technology to create opportunities of sustainable livelihoods.

Combatting human trafficking

Our second speaker of the night was Phil Bennett, Programme Architect at Salesforce.org, telling us about his experience volunteering for organisations that also use Salesforce to end human trafficking. Phil mentioned the different streams of work around prevention, prosecution, rescue and reintegration and how a number of NGOs use Salesforce as a platform to connect and refer cases, but also have a solid system to manage their database to report all incidents of modern slavery. He mentioned the work with Unseen, providing a modern slavery helpline in the UK. Unseen is a dedicated helpline that offers support to identify victims of modern slavery and raise alarms in light of cases of human trafficking. The UK modern slavery helpline can easily be adapted and rolled out to other organisations, bearing in mind that the context of human trafficking differs across countries. Data generated from reporting cases with the helpline can in the future help inform programmes and tailor responses to end human trafficking accordingly.

Is tech actually useful for tackling modern slavery?

The second part of the night featured a panel with speakers Katherine Prescott, co-founder of Free_D, Justine Currell, Executive Director of Unseen, Sarah Brown, Lead Analyst, Stop the Traffik and Min Teo, Fundraising Lead at Techfugees chaired by BGV’s own Jessica Stacey. Katherine from FreeD answered specific questions from the floor around levels of literacy, especially tech literacy in communities and how to overcome these challenges through community engagement. Min from Techfugees added that social isolation is a significant issue around rehabilitation and reintegration. Co-creation and taking a human-centred design approach whilst building your tech solution is essential and strengthens collaboration between stakeholders. Justine Currell telling us a bit more about the modern slavery helpline, shifted the conversation slightly questioning tech as force for good. Human traffickers and smugglers often use tech, as simple as WhatsApp to navigate routes and target potential victims, tracking movements of vulnerable populations after disasters or enticing tem through job ads promising a better life in the UK. Sarah Brown from Stop the Traffik rightly said that we might be disrupting the field, but are potentially displacing and consequently forcing smugglers to widen their reach. Stop the Traffik’s work focuses on making the invisible visible and reaching people that might otherwise not be aware they are exposed to slavery. They have partnered with Facebook to create geolocated targeted messages and conduct sentiment analysis with an emphasis to follow up on engagement and start a dialogue with people responding to their messages. Through this work they really want to prioritise on prevention, and social media can often help to spot cases of modern slavery.

Tech for Good Community announcements

Finally, in typical Tech for Good manner, we’ve had a few community announcements promoting a few opportunities, projects and more relevant to our growing Tech for Good community. If you’re not part of the community yet, do not hesitate and join us and we hope to see you at the next Tech for Good meetup.