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Modern slavery

Using data to fight human trafficking in conflict

Information is proving a powerful tool against modern-day slavery

In September 2016, Thomson Reuters joined the UN University (UNU), a think tank established by the General Assembly within the UN System; the Permanent Missions of the UK and Lichtenstein to the UN; and the Grace Farms Foundation, a nonprofit foundation and retreat center; to issue a report, “Fighting Human Trafficking in Conflict: 10 Ideas for Action by the UN Security Council.” The report reviewed the tools available to the UN Security Council (UNSC) and member states and offered 10 ideas for action, providing concrete steps for the UNSC and its partners to take to sever the link between conflict and slavery. Subsequently, on Dec. 20, 2016, at its 7,847th meeting, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2331, which encourages member states to “build strong partnerships with the private sector and civil society … to provide information helping to identify, disrupt, dismantle and bring to justice individuals and networks involved in trafficking of persons in areas affected by armed conflict.”

As the resolution was passed, (then) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described human trafficking as a global problem, saying the most vulnerable people were those caught in conflict — women, children, internally displaced persons and refugees. Emphasizing the importance of fighting trafficking for the sake of the victims, and of reducing funding for terrorists, he said countries should investigate and prosecute cases in which their own nationals committed such crimes abroad.

The “Fighting Human Trafficking in Conflict” report provided a unique opening for action. It was the result of a two-day workshop conducted last summer organized by the UNU with the help of the same five organizations, which brought together over 100 diverse experts from Permanent Missions to the UN, UN entities, national law enforcement agencies, financial intelligence units (FIUs), the Technology sector, the Financial sector, media organizations and civil society to discuss the complex and pressing issue of human trafficking in armed-conflict situations and how best to address it.

This workshop also marked the beginning of the partnership between these organizations. More recently, a follow-on workshop was held in March 2017 at Grace Farms on disrupting financial flows associated with slavery, human trafficking, forced labor and child labor with many of the same participants.

For years, the Thomson Reuters Corporation and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have played a critical role in bringing attention to how technology and data can address human trafficking through a series of issue-raising activities. Included among them are partnering with Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (New York County District Attorney, Manhattan), CEOs from major financial institutions and leading NGOs to identify the financial “red flags” of human traffickers in financial systems; launching the first global information and intelligence platform on modern-day slavery in supply chains by combining supplier screening through Thomson Reuters World-Check® and Thomson Reuters Enhanced Due Diligence; and working with NGOs to identify sources of labor in supply chains.

The issue of human trafficking transcends borders, which is why it needs an international response, and also why the UN report and Resolution on disrupting human trafficking in conflict zones is so very important. The current migration crisis facing the world unfortunately makes huge populations vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation as they flee war zones or are sold into bondage to fund or aid the fighting. The 10 ideas offered in the report to the UNSC included increased monitoring of armed groups’ involvement in human trafficking, data sharing, the use of sanctions, international criminal cooperation and enhanced private sector due diligence.

The plan highlights three main areas for action:

  • Denunciation and Accountability (to denounce human trafficking in conflict and promote accountability)
  • Disruption (through data-sharing, monitoring, use of existing sanctions tools and fostering private sector due diligence)
  • Protection (for the individuals who are most at risk, or currently suffering)

We were gratified to see that many of these ideas and recommendations were incorporated into the UNSC’s final resolution.

Cover of UN report on Fighting Human Trafficking in Conflict. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Slavery is a massive criminal enterprise, with an estimated 45 million people currently enslaved worldwide. It is second only to drugs as a profitable criminal activity. It therefore inevitably leaves traces, especially in this Internet-coordinated era.

We believe that intelligent data, gathered and analyzed by experts, can be a powerful tool to disrupt modern-day slavery.

Data-sharing can identify the tracks of illegal profits as the criminals try to launder the proceeds through financial institutions. We work daily with organizations and companies around the world to help them not only to meet their regulatory obligations but also to use anti-money laundering tools to provide vital evidence for the authorities. We work with government agencies to help them access information on bribery, corruption and other forms of illicit financing. Increasingly, these link with human trafficking. And – as recommended in the UN Report – we have currently developed training for risk and compliance officers on preventing human trafficking and slavery.

A database such as our own World-Check helps us make sense of vast amounts of open source information, which can be used to uncover instances of human trafficking and slavery. We are already providing clients with access to over 63,000 profiles relating to human trafficking and human rights abuses. Thomson Reuters CLEAR® is another one of our tools that is used in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. We provide CLEAR® to Polaris, a leading US nonprofit organization that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the BeFree Textline. Through these operations, Polaris has access to the largest set of human trafficking data in the United States and uses CLEAR’s public and proprietary records and analytic capabilities to uncover connections between trafficking victims and the people and organizations that perpetrate these crimes.

The advantage which global companies share is their experience in thinking across borders – of operating truly internationally and taking an approach to business which spans the jurisdictions of individual governments. Many governments will impose sanctions on individuals and organizations, but there is only a limited amount of agreement among them. Criminals can take advantage of this in order to launder the proceeds of crime across borders. Global organizations such as banks and commodity importers can play a crucial role in cutting off the criminals’ access to the global financial system and freezing their assets wherever they are found.

And that is what is particularly exciting about the UN initiative. It calls for global cooperation, not only between governments but also between companies and campaigning groups, spanning the public, private and voluntary sectors to create a united, global effort to end human trafficking.

Thomson Reuters was honored to be involved in such an important body of work.


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Corporations, banks and governments all have a role to play to stop slavery. Our Anti-Slavery Summit on August 29th will focus on how technology, data and regulation can tackle this crime. Register now for the live webcast.

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