Tech deployed against modern slavery

Technology is increasingly being used as a weapon for good against the scourge of modern slavery – but is also heavily abused by perpetrators to target and misinform potential victims of trafficking, a London debate on tech and modern slavery heard this month.

modern slaveryJustine Currell, executive director of modern slavery campaign Unseen, said human traffickers and smugglers often used tech as simple as WhatsApp to navigate routes and target potential victims, tracking movements of vulnerable populations after disasters or enticing people through job ads promising a better life in the UK.

Unseen provides a dedicated modern slavery helpline in the UK, offering support to identify victims and encouraging people to raise the alarm in possible cases of human trafficking.

The charity deploys products first developed by cloud software giant Salesforce to automate and manage commercial sales are being redeployed by charities in an effort to understand and tackle human trafficking, Phil Bennett, a programme architect at, the non-profit arm of Salesforce, said NGOs working in the field of modern slavery now regularly use Salesforce tools to connect and refer cases to police and professionals.

Bennett, who volunteers for organisations deploying Salesforce to end human trafficking, said data generated from reporting cases through the helpline would help inform future programmes and responses to end human trafficking.

Currell and Bennett were speaking at this month’s Tech For Good meetup in London, which coincided with the annual world day against trafficking in persons.

Statistics show that human trafficking is now the third-largest industry crime worldwide. According to the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide. The problem has been exacerbated by conflicts and natural disasters, which have created vast refugee and migrant movements worldwide.

A recent report from the National Crime Agency revealed that the true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK is more prevalent than previously estimated – with alleged victims of labour and sexual exploitation as young as 12 years old.

The UK government’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act introduced tougher penalties for offenders, and required businesses to ensure that there is no modern slavery in their business or supply chains.

Unseen has produced Spot the Signs, a series of YouTube videos to raise awareness of modern slavery in UK households.

In a panel discussion, Sarah Brown, lead analyst at Stop the Traffik, said the clampdown meant that smugglers were being forced to widen the reach of their crimes. She said Stop the Traffik focused its efforts on reaching people that might otherwise be unaware that they are being exposed to slavery.

She said Stop the Traffik has partnered with Facebook to create geo-located targeted messages and conduct sentiment analysis, with an emphasis on starting a dialogue with people responding to trafficker messages.

Siavash Mahdavi, the co-founder of Free_D, a social enterprise with a mission to support and upskill disadvantaged women in India, said an estimated 14m people in India are victims of human trafficking, with 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across the country’s borders every year. Over 70% of these are women and girls, who are often sold into working in brothels. She said that up to 40% of those rescued from trafficking are subjected to trafficking again.

FreeD works with survivors of trafficking and women and girls who are at high risk, including teaching 3D printed jewellery making, to give women and girls a better chance of sustainable living. Mahdavi said education, as provided by FreeD and others, was key to prevention.

Min Teo from Techfugees said social isolation was a significant issue around rehabilitation and reintegration. She urged co-creation and a clear human-centred design approach when building tech solutions.

Tech for Good meetup is organised by Bethnal Green Ventures and CAST.
Photo: ILO