Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
The denial of human rights is visible around us with millions of people being victims in one form or another. However, it grows grave when it takes the form of human trafficking or bondage that not just deprives people of their basic rights, but questions the basis of their humanity.
Here’s how IBM (IBM) is looking to leverage technology to make a difference to the lives of millions of such people affected.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”
The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 40.3 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking. This means that there are 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people in the world with 20% of all trafficking victims being children.
A UNODC report mentions that sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking (79%) followed by forced labor (18%).
The problem isn’t region or country bound, it is present even in the most developed countries across the globe; in the U.S., more than 40,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to Polaris hotline since 2007.
Human traffickers generate billions by victimizing vulnerable people gripped by poverty, oppression or war—by use of deception, violence or debt bondage among other ways. The high demand in such markets, huge margins combined with perceived low level of risk continue to fuel human trafficking and illegal profits; ILO estimates that the private economy generates $150 billion in profits per year.
The movement of money through various channels feeds this heinous industry and thus identification and tracking of money related to this business can provide a huge breakthrough in efforts to stop human trafficking. Over the years, global financial system has been tightening anti-money laundering measures to ensure that funds from illicit sources do not enter and mingle with money from legitimate businesses.
However, loopholes exist, and these are manipulated to benefit the wrongdoers. In addition to the efforts of financial institutions, a number of NGOs and government agencies have been working to support the victims while targeting criminal traffickers.
Those efforts have broadly remained scattered with disconnects in information. Thus, effective information sharing is critical in the process of identification and exposure of such activities and people.
To that end, IBM is collaborating with Stop The Traffik (STT) and Western Union, Barclays, Lloyd's Banking Group, Liberty Global, Europol, University College London to form the Traffik Analysis Hub (TAHub), a platform to facilitate the exchange of information about human trafficking across organizations. Traffik Analysis Hub is powered by advanced technologies such as augmented intelligence, machine learning and cloud computing.
The TAHub has been trained by IBM using Watson Natural Language for human trafficking incidents using search terms by STT and other contributors. Based on machine learning capabilities and using structured data, TAHub identifies such incidents which is further analyzed with additional data sources to “identify trafficking networks, patterns and hotspots to drive intelligence-led collaboration.”
The cloud-based platform can only be accessed by authenticated partners for uploading non-personal data related to such activities which is aggregated and interpreted to convert into actionable information using AI for use by NGOs, financial institutions and governments.
Some other efforts involving technology players include the PhotoDNA technology by Microsoft (MSFT) in 2015. Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology, a cloud service that helps find and remove online images that exploit children. PhotoDNA uses “hash” matching technology can identify known illegal photos even if someone has altered them.
In June 2018, global technology companies (such as Microsoft, Nokia, British Telecom), civil society organizations (RESPECT, BSR), and UN agencies (International Organization for Migration) joined hands to launch “Tech Against Trafficking”, a collaborative to support the eradication of human trafficking. As the first step, the consortium is looking to map and analyze the landscape of existing tech-focused initiatives to tackle modern slavery.
While these serious problems do not have a quick fix solution, one way ahead is a make collaborative effort in the right direction and that is something that we are beginning to witness. The analysis of unstructured data and sharing of actionable results on IBM’s platform is a constructive step in the efforts to combat human trafficking.