On June 7, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN sponsored a side event entitled “Big Data Innovation to Tackle Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery,” together with HealRWorld and the UN Office for Partnerships to shed light upon the creative ways the business sector is using advanced technology to help eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery.
Archbishop Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, said that Pope Francis and the Holy See are personally invested in the eradication of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today, ensnaring 41 million men and women, boys and girls,” he said, noting that the international community is mobilizing to combat the scourge of human trafficking, with three specific targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Global Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking and many other initiatives and alliances.
“Progress is certainly being made,” he said, “but the progress is slow. Much more mobilization is needed. Much greater sophistication is required. The commitment and ingenuity of the business world must be harnessed.”
The panelists included members of the business sector, governments and civil society who highlighted the importance of partnerships across all sectors to work to eradicating trafficking.
In his opening remarks, Robb Skinner, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, noted the importance of partnerships across all sectors to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, especially emphasizing the integral role businesses can play in fighting trafficking.
Award-winning photographer Lisa Kristine gave the keynote, sharing stories of trafficking victims and survivors she has photographed around the world. An exhibition of her photographs on modern slavery was just featured in the Vatican and praised by Pope Francis, in which he signed several pictures to be auctioned for charities that aid the men, women and children touched by trafficking. Photographs from this exhibit will be on display at the UN July 29 through August 2 to mark the World Day Against Human Trafficking on July 30.
Kristine shared the stories behind the faces of those in her photographs, mentioning that many are exploited while trying to find better opportunities.
“People don’t fall into slavery because they are stupid but because they are lied to,” she said.
She said that while sex trafficking was the most frightening industry she encountered, she was deeply troubled by the children she met ensnared in forced labor.
“In the Himalayas I witnessed children carrying stone that weigh more than their body weight,” she said, “Kids who should be in school but instead are forced to haul stone. And then I think: These stones, are they the same slate I have in my kitchen?”
She urged those in the room to acknowledge their own compliance and participation in fostering the scourge and called them to use their buying power to influence businesses to use responsible practices.
“We either knowingly or unknowingly participate in slavery every day with the things we buy,” she said. “The more pressure put upon retailers the more we tip the scale in the right direction.”
Andrew Wilson, Permanent Observer of the International Chamber of Commerce to the United Nations (ICC), said that in the past six years he has seen much more cooperation among corporations in acknowledging their role in trafficking and in finding best practices to fight modern slavery and exploitation in their supply chains.
“If you look at the narrow definition of forced labor, 80 percent of those in forced labor are in corporate supply chains,” he said. “Something is not working. We need to be ready, willing and engaged to address that problem.”
Wilson noted that the corporations that most successfully tackle exploitation are those that do not merely settle for risk mitigation, but who actively partner with and engage companies at multiple levels in the supply chain.
Martin Laird, Senior Program Manager for Citizenship at IBM, is leading the charge to use artificial intelligence to collect and share data used to combat human trafficking. He shared the platform IBM will launch this fall that will receive and share data among multiple participating sectors to find trends for what is happening and to project what may happen in the future. It uses artificial intelligence to do what a highly manual human task.
“For analysts this is groundbreaking. This is blending data across sources that is not traditionally easy to do,” he said.
The second panel, moderated by Michele Bongionvanni, CEO of HealRWorld, focused on how data professionals are collaborating with each other and the private sector, civil society, and the international community to fight the scourge of trafficking.
Che Sidanius, Global Head of Regulations & Industry Affairs of Refinitiv, highlighted the link between financial crime and human trafficking, noting that traffickers are usually also committing financial crimes to launder their money. His company focuses on using data mostly to fight financial crime but also shed light on these links.
Sara Crowe, Director of Data Analysis for Polaris, agreed that tackling the aspect of financial crime involved in trafficking and treating it more like organized crime are stronger means toward eradication than law enforcement.
“You might be able to find a paper trail that doesn’t require a victim to tell her stories over and over,” she said, noting that they found that raids conducted by law enforcement that shut down illicit brothels posing as massage parlors tended to criminalize the women who provided services against their will, while the at-large owners would get off free, only to start a similar business in a new location.
She noted that 50 jurisdictions have agreed to stop arresting the women, but to treat the cases as organized crime instead of small scale crime.
Ingrid Verschuren, Deputy Head of Professional Information Business and Senior Vice President of Dow Jones, said that Dow Jones has a risk-and-compliance division to give businesses an index rating that is more transparent than a company’s self-reporting.
This can help encourage businesses to invest in social responsibility in their supply chains and also to inform investors who want to make socially responsible financial choices.
“From a consumer perspective, the next generation is way more demanding of what is happening with their money,” she said.
Data Disruptive Network (DDN) Data Scientist Russ Labe, said that the DDN aims to provide risk scores based on data collected from many global sources that are merged together to come up with trends to be used to fight trafficking and exploitation.
“The risk scores at a company level shine light on companies that are doing things well and companies who are not,” he said.
Michele Bongiovanni said that analyzing businesses through these data platforms is important to hold companies accountable and to drive investment towards them.
“There is a 30 trillion dollar wealth transfer to millennials and we know this is what they care about. They want to work for these companies and they want to support these companies,” she said.
She noted that her HealRWorld focuses on bridging multiple platforms together, including small and midsized companies and faith-based organizations.
Dr. Kelly Gleason, Data Science Lead at the International Labour Organization, shared the importance of data coming from multiple sources to illustrate a full picture. Data can come from governments and companies with low levels of exploitation in their supply chains but also companies who might not be performing well in regards to corporate responsibility and sustainability but want to improve.
“We want to celebrate the data, we don’t want to penalize anyone,” and said that businesses tend to be more encouraged to share their own data when the data can be made anonymous so that companies are not discouraged from sharing it.
Although big data was an integral part of the event, Liberty Shared data scientist Jennifer Kimball Penrose highlighted that the best data are not always the biggest, but is often found from the personal and nuanced stories of survivors themselves. She reminded the audience that the human face of those trafficked and enslaved are often a big part of the solution.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.