Anti-human trafficking apps increase awareness and action from churches to truck stops

Learn how the UN, Microsoft, Amazon, Nokia, the Church of England, and others are using tech to make it easier for people to recognize and report potential victims of human trafficking.

Silhouette of the hand

Image: badmanproduction, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The United Nations (UN) wants to end slavery by 2030. Slavery is the second largest criminal industry in the world--tied with arms dealing--with 40 million people in some form of servitude and profits of $150 billion in 2015. This will require action from individual citizens, government leaders, and corporate executives.

Technology is often used to enable human trafficking, but leaders from all sectors of the tech world are starting to use this same power to help stop sexual exploitation and forced labor.

In 2018, Vodafone, BT, Microsoft, Amazon, and Nokia, along with nonprofits, and the UN launched Tech Against Trafficking, a collaborative effort to address forced labor and human trafficking. One of the first things the group did was to compile a list of almost 200 apps, tools, and data-driven projects (PDF) that help identify victims as well as criminals involved in modern day slavery. These tools include everything from blockchain, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and phone apps.

Groups ranging from truck drivers in America to members of the Church of England are building apps to help community members spot people who might be trafficked and report concerns.

SEE: How Amazon wants to use serverless apps to end human trafficking (TechRepublic)

Learning to spot the signs of human trafficking

The Clewer Initiative built The Safe Car Wash app to make it easier for people to recognize and report potential victims of human trafficking. This project of the Church of England is helping communities develop strategies to detect modern slavery at a local level. Forced labor is the biggest problem in agriculture, fisheries, construction, factory work, and domestic service.

With the app, a user logs her location when at a hand car wash. She answers a few questions about conditions at the business, such as how the workers are dressed and the cost of the wash. If the answers suggest that a person is working at the car wash against his will, the app asks the user to call the Modern Slavery Helpline. The data collected by the app is shared with the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority Police. These two law enforcement agencies are leading efforts to stop slavery in the UK. The agencies receive an anonymous version of the data in real time that includes the GPS data point of where the report was filed.  

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Image: The Clewer Initiative

The app is one part of the church's larger strategy to create a culture of prevention and to help communities become slavery proof. Church leaders believe local people are key to this change. The app helps individuals spot the signs of modern slavery and helps the police find victims; people can then can prevent vulnerable people they work with from being trafficked or exploited. 

SEE: Human trafficking of girls in particular "on the rise," United Nations warns (CBS News)

Working with police to report trafficking

Truckers and bus drivers in America are also using an app to help identify people who might be trafficked. Traffickers single out vulnerable young people near schools, online, and in shopping malls; they often take people being trafficked for sexual activity to truck stops and motels to look for customers.

Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) has an app that describes red flags to watch for in people who might be under another person's control, which include:

  • Is not allowed to speak for him- or herself;

  • Has a brand or a tattoo on the neck; and

  • Is not in possession of own ticket or ID.

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Image: Truckers Against Trafficking

The app recommends specific actions to take--record the physical description of the individuals and the license plate number of the vehicle they are in--and lists contact information for trafficking hotlines in America, Canada, and Mexico.

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Image: Truckers Against Trafficking

The group has recruited bus drivers to the anti-trafficking effort with the Busing on the Lookout app. According to TAT, traffickers use bus stops and bus terminals when looking for vulnerable people to exploit. Traffickers also use buses to transport victims to places where they will be sold.

TAT has trained more than 680,000 truck drivers and 55,000 bus drivers on how to spot trafficking and how to help. In addition, the group works at the state level to incorporate trafficking awareness training into commercial driver's license training.

The group's Man to Man program takes on the demand side of commercial sex work. The program encourages truck drivers not to buy commercial sex because "... if no one purchased commercial sex, the crime of sex trafficking wouldn't exist." The program urges drivers to evaluate their attitudes about relationships, women, sexuality, and what it means to be a man and to challenge the norm when it comes to sexist jokes, attitudes, or policies in the workplace. There's even a recommended reading list.

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