Using Data Analysis to Fight Slavery

Last week as part of the Freedom Project, CNN published a piece on the use of technology in combating modern-day slavery. The article profiles innovative partnerships forged between Polaris, the non-profit that runs the Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, and tech companies such as Google, Salesforce, and Palantir.

Polaris collects vast amounts of trafficking data through its hotline: more than 85,000 calls have been answered since its inception in 2007—with more than 5,000 calls this year to date. In the last seven years, the hotline has helped uncover almost 20,000 cases of trafficking. Through collaborations with the tech industry, Polaris analyzed its data to decode human trafficking across various industries, from farming to domestic servitude, hospitality, and sex work.

Data collection and sharing can help identify—and prosecute—all actors engaged in trafficking, from recruiters to document forgers to the final stage exploiter. There are an estimated 20.9 million victims of slavery across the globe, yet according to the 2015 Department of State Trafficking Persons (TIP) report, there were fewer than 4,500 convictions worldwide last year. That’s down from 5,776 the year before.

In the United States, the Department of Justice convicted 184 traffickers last year, up slightly from 174 the previous year. When comparing conviction rates to the number of victims estimated globally, it’s clear that traffickers operate with relative impunity. Increasing convictions is essential to making human trafficking a riskier business and deterring future perpetrators.

Collaborating with tech companies and the financial sector could uncover more types of evidence against traffickers and expand investigatory capabilities through financial analysis and data mining. Leveraging partnerships between the government, NGOs, businesses, and tech companies will make efforts to combat this crime more sustainable and efficient.

The Polaris hotline is a prime example of how a partnership with the private sector significantly expanded the reach of both Polaris and the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services. The government and non-profits alone will not make a dent on this $150 billion industry. Ending modern-day slavery requires an innovative multi-sector approach focused on collaborations to identify, investigate, and prosecute those behind this growing criminal enterprise.

For more information on the role public-private partnerships can play in dismantling the business of trafficking please see our blueprint here.

And for a chance to learn more about the role of data analysis in fighting trafficking, vote for Human Rights First to go to SXSW!

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Published on August 20, 2015

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