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Although governments around the world have recognized the significance of human trafficking as an element of organized crime, the private sector has also recently become more aware of this connection. The first webinar series in 2015, co-organized by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and Babson College, addressed the role of the private sector in tackling human trafficking in various industries, stressing the importance of the private sector taking a stronger stand to ensure ethical and fair practices, and do more to contribute its unique knowledge and expertise to help combat trafficking. The second webinar series 2016 concentrated on Responsible Supply Chain Management and Labour Standards, looking at best practices and lessons to ensure end-to-end integrity from human trafficking along the supply chain, including with service providers and procurement partners. It examined international standards and how those can be applied, and probe where gaps in the global policy architecture may exist and how they can be addressed.

In the framework of the Responsible and Ethical Private Sector Coalition against Trafficking (RESPECT), the next webinar series 2016-2017 ‘New technologies, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Tackling Human Trafficking’ will also address the need for innovation and entrepreneurship in the fight against human trafficking. As innovative technologies continue to change our lives, the private sector, as a whole, is becoming an increasingly important actor in terms of trafficking. These new technologies provide not only the tools traffickers need to find victims and conduct their business, but also to catch and build cases against traffickers and empower vulnerable groups to seek support when facing situations entailing different forms of exploitation.

Many of the new technologies used by those involved in the fight against trafficking aim to combine innovative technology with expertise gained on the ground by non-profit organizations, service providers, and law enforcement. Forbes and Devex, which cover important innovations and development, both came out this year with either lists or articles detailing the importance of technology innovations in the fight against human trafficking. Forbes put together a list of “8 Tech Innovations That Could Counter Sex Trafficking,” and Devex published an article on “How technology is taking down human trafficking.”

There is some overlap between these articles regarding important innovations that can be used to combat human trafficking. The first is the amalgamation of information into a single database, which could then be used by law enforcement to track trafficking trends and collect data for specific cases. This would allow for greater cooperation between the various actors in a specific country, a region, or even across the globe, involved in combating trafficking. A single platform could also be created for service providers and NGOs, allowing victims to receive the help they need through cross-organizational cooperation. The second is the use of mobile platforms, such as social media and others, to ensure that at-risk populations can communicate in an emergency, and also to make sure that these groups are not completely cut off from their communities.

Furthermore and of growing importance are enhanced banking technologies, tracking after-hours transactions at potential trafficking sites (such as nail salons), search engines for sites that can only be found on the “dark web” (the site of many illicit activities, including human trafficking), platforms providing internship and job opportunities for trafficking survivors, and developing mobile apps and social media platforms that can spread awareness and prevent trafficking, enhance social services for survivors and reduce the number of survivors who are re-trafficked.

The organization End Slavery Now published a list of mobile apps that provide information or allow people to report suspected cases of trafficking. Two particularly interesting apps are the Slavery Footprint app, which, based on responses to a series of questions, provides you with an estimated number of ‘modern-day-slaves’ that have presumably contributed in some way to your lifestyle; and the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) app, which works to combat domestic sex trafficking through educating, equipping, empowering and mobilizing community members – especially those in the trucking and travel industry – by providing access to the US national hotline, to report potential cases of trafficking, and other resources. Both apps are available for Apple and Android phones for free.

Stop the Traffik, an organization based in the UK, created the STOP app, which combines community empowerment, big data management and anti-trafficking expertise to disrupt, combat and prevent trafficking. The app empowers everyone to collect information, which is gathered and analysed by the organization to develop strong initiatives to prevent trafficking and protect vulnerable groups.

Clearly, members of the private sector realize the contributions it can make to the fight against trafficking, and some of the biggest multinational companies, like Google and Microsoft, are taking serious steps to join this effort. However, entrepreneurs like small businesses and start-ups are just as important in the fight against trafficking. Ulula, for example, is an innovative start-up that helps to detect labour trafficking, and provides vulnerable groups and workers in remote areas with technology used to seek support or make complaints. This year, Ulula began a project in remote Peruvian mining towns, which are inaccessible to law enforcement and some civil society organizations. Through the use of mobile technology, such as SMS and USSD, Ulula is working to provide safe and reliable communication mechanisms for victims, so those advocating on their behalf can gain a more accurate and up-to-date picture of the situation, and respond quickly, adequately and appropriately.

Existing small companies can take steps to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labour, can join anti-trafficking networks, and can help spread the word in their communities. Trafficking survivors can also receive training that will allow them to start their own businesses, providing them with the economic stability that goes a long way to ensuring that they are no longer vulnerable to trafficking.

The private sector will play an ever-increasing role in the fight against trafficking, as more and more people become aware of the impact of trafficking on their lives, and their indirect involvement. The webinars that are part of this series will look at how both large and small companies can aid in the fight against trafficking, specifically through the use of new technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship. This series will explain how these facets of business and entrepreneurship relate to the five P’s (Policy, Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, Partnerships) and the three R’s (Redress, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of victims), and provide possible methods for how the private sector can increase the capacity and resilience of vulnerable groups and communities.

The new webinar series can be found here. All registration links are available now.

This blog post has been written by Kathryn (Katie) Kosanovich, alumni of the Graduate Institute Geneva.