How to Combat Human-Trafficking in the Digital Age

Inspired by the article “How Google is Fighting Sex Trafficking with Big Data” in Fast Company.

NATO Against Human Trafficking

A very accessible analysis of the 2004 summit noted that “one of the lesser-known outcomes of NATO’s 2004 Istanbul Summit was the adoption of a NATO Policy Against Human Trafficking.” All members’ heads of state and government approved the policy. In 2013, it remains in NATO’s best interests to be vigilant when it comes to human trafficking. The majority of human trafficking actually consists of forced sexual labour, and so it is not uncommon to see sex-trafficking and human-trafficking used synonymously. By taking on the industry of human trafficking, NATO is asserting its role to ensure global security. It is not playing the role of an ‘international police force’ as some critics of the program claim, but rather is utilizing its global network to stop the harmful affects of this industry. And now the technology world is joining the fight, potentially providing a tool that can help streamline NATO’s efforts in this mission.

The Modern Slave Trade

Sex-trafficking is often referred to as the modern slave trade. Those that scoff at the fact that slavery still exists are in for a harsh reality check: Sex-trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. Pulling data from the UNDP site, the FBI’s website acknowledges “sex trafficking is the fastest-growing businesses of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.” An estimated 2.5 million people are currently in forced labour, which includes sexual exploitation. Out of the 2.5 million, a vast majority are women and children, with the average targeted age group ranging from 18-24.

Why is this a global concern? Because contrary to popular misconceptions that human trafficking is restricted to parts of Asia, the reality is that “people are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy.”

If technology is part of the problem, make technology part of the solution

There is a potential for NATO to revolutionize the way it is waging its war against sex-trafficking. Allocating some of the funds for cyber-security towards a program similar to the one partly funded by Google could increase their own productivity.

“Thanks in part to a $3 million grant from Google, a group of three anti-trafficking organizations–Polaris in the U.S., LaStrada International in Eastern Europe, and Liberty Asia–are using innovative technology from big data partners Palantir and to launch The Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, which aims to turn the tide in the fight against modern-day slavery.”

The director of Google Giving believes that technology is not being utilized to its fullest capacity to push social change – specifically when it comes to funding (in that there isn’t enough of it). Google Giving is attempting to shift this through its Global Impact Award, the award that was given to the anti-trafficking project.

Trafficking of humans is not as underground an industry as one would imagine. “Traffickers use technology like everyone else does – to make their lives easier. They use social media to recruit victims, they use mobile devices with built-in GPS to track women under their control, so they always know where they are and if they are servicing clients, and they even use Internet groups as a marketplace to buy and sell women and forced laborers.” What Google and these tech firms are saying is, if technology is enabling the problem, use technology to fight it.

The proposed project is working to bring hotlines, a primary function for helping victims escape their dreadful situations, into the 21st century. The idea is as follows:

“Combine standardization with cutting edge data aggregation and sharing tools and you have the genesis of the The Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network. Right now the hotline only consists of three organizations (Polaris, LaStrada, and Liberty Asia) but in the future it will be able to be quickly rolled out to other organizations thanks to a common backend provided by”

Bringing it Together

As part of NATO’s policy to combat human trafficking, it has included that “NATO will also consult with NGOs active in this field with a view to improving its existing mechanisms and measures for the implementation of the present policy.” This in itself is enough grounds for NATO to examine the proposals made by this Google-funded venture. Integrating modern technology is a key component to ensuring that NATO programs stay relevant and efficient. When it comes to human trafficking, “shared data and a powerful global data analysis initiative involving hotline call data will be critical to understanding the global footprint of human trafficking and driving new strategic interventions aimed at reducing and eradicating the crime” said Myles, the CEO of Polaris Project, to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. It would be in NATO’s best interest to expand their consultations from NGOs to include technology companies that are also making a push for global security.

Radha Patel

About Radha Patel

Radha Patel completed her BA at McGill University, with a double major in Political Science and World Religions and a minor in Politics, Law, and Society. Her areas of interest include international relations, comparative politics, and transitions to democracy. Radha is interested in learning about Canada’s role on the international stage and how it can be optimized to be more effective in its global endeavours. She was the Program Editor as well as a Research Analyst for the Emerging Securities Program at the NATO Association of Canada.