“Technology Solutions to Human Trafficking”: Moderated by Julia Ormond, Actress, and Founder and President, Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET)

What is human trafficking/enslavement?

Human trafficking by definition involves the movement of people by means such as force, fraud, coercion or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. Internationally it is a form of modern day slavery.

“Enslavement is when one person completely controls another person, uses violence or violent threat to maintain that control, exploits them economically and pays them effectively nothing…trafficking in persons is a process of enslaving  someone” Julia Ormond

People may be victims of enslavement or forced labour regardless of whether they were born into servitude or were transported into an exploitative situation, whether they once consented to work for a trafficker, or whether they participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked.

Victims have been forced to work in massage parlours, sweat shops and circuses. Children have been used as child brides, for sacrificial worship and forced begging. Some victims are made to sell their organs, work as farm labourers, enforced criminality (from street robbery to benefit fraud) or are forced into domestic servitude or as soldiers in war. Most victims believe they are being offered the chance to travel abroad and better their and their family’s life – few expect the horrors that they are subjected too. Currently there is no global rescue system that people knowingly putting themselves at risk, due to lack of an alternative can use, should they become a victim.

The consequence is that no global campaign can be resourced to message around a global rescue system, because it doesn’t yet exist.  Messaging focuses on the risks to certain vulnerable communities, but currently offers no game plan, should they be trapped by criminals.

Victims usually suffer repeated physical abuse, fear, torture and threats to families to break their spirits and are often killed. A person can be sold and put to forced work many times – generating billions of dollars globally that rivals the drug trade in profit.

Many member states globally still require the passage across a National border to qualify you as a trafficking victim though.

United Nations DESCRIPTION

“Human Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to

achieve the consent of a person, or have control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour services, slavery or practises similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

European Union DESCRIPTION

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, subsequent reception of a person, including exchange or transfer of control over that person, where:
(a) use is made of coercion, force or threat, including abduction, or
(b) use is made of deceit or fraud, or

(c) there is an abuse of authority or of a position of vulnerability, which is such that the person has no real and acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved, or
(d) payments or benefits are given or received to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person’s labour or services, including at least forced or compulsory labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery or servitude, or for the purpose of the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, including in pornography.”


The forcible or deceptive recruitment of women, men and children for the purposes of forced prostitution or sexual exploitation.

FORCED LABOUR is any work or services which people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form of punishment. Immigrants and undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable, but individuals also may be forced into labour in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labour, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well. Forced Labour is regarded by the ILO as an extreme form of Enslavement or in some cases Trafficking. Child Labour is a form of forced labour, and is when a child is required to use an implement that is potentially harmful to them, be around toxins that could harm them, or removed from their education. Child Work is an Internationally acknowledged part of the functionality of much of the world, however  has restrictions as to the type of work children are allowed to engage in.  Seasonal agricultural work for eg in some countries, is negotiated around school attendance.

12.3million adults and children in  forced labour, bonded labour, and forced prostitution around the world

600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked into the EU each year.

It is believed that up to 300,000 children are trafficked internally within the USA annually


Employment in private homes where victims are ill-treated, humiliated and subjected to exhausting working hours and other exploitation. Workplaces are informal, connected to a victim’s off-duty living quarters, and not often shared with other workers. Such an environment, which often socially isolates workers, is conducive to non-consensual exploitation since authorities cannot inspect private property as easily as they can inspect formal workplaces.


A number of factors help distinguish between smuggling and trafficking: Smuggling is characterised by illegal entry only and international movement only, either secretly or by deception whether for profit or otherwise. Smuggling is a voluntary act, often consciously participated in by a future victim when, once smuggled they are trapped, sold into trafficking rings, and psychologically induced to believe that corrupt police will fine them and deport them.

If a person is simply smuggled, and there is no further exploitation by the smugglers once they reach their destination though they are not technically a trafficking victim. There is normally little coercion/violence involved or required from those assisting in the smuggling. The deception and coercion however if they end up trafficked, is in that the smuggler did not disclose that they are not just being smuggled, but will be trafficked.

Victims are coerced, exploited, kidnapped, held captive and often raped. It happens to children too. Try to imagine being promised a good job abroad. You’re taken thousands of miles away from home to a strange country. The job doesn’t exist. Your passport is taken from you. You’re intimidated, petrified, penniless and trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. And you’ve no idea what your rights are…It is the second largest illegal trade in the world.


The illicit trade in people as either commodities themselves or the forced-labour force that work on and distribute goods, are a section of Illicit trade globally.  Illicit trade includes Intellectual Property theft which affects, for instance, the tech industry alone to the tune of billions of dollars. Pirate video sales and distribution is negatively impacting revenue of the Film Industry as another example. Moises Naim in his book ‘Illicit’ gives a remarkable analysis as to how these issues connect to us all and impact our international security.  He states that of the Global GDP, between 2 and 10% is laundered money through illicit trade.  He also states that the selling of children is the fastest growing global crime.


Harnessing GPS in smart phones to create a GRS; Global Rescue System. “GPS for GRS”.

To create a technological solution, based around mobile phone technology enabling those who are enslaved to safely cry for assistance and rescue. Can we create a Global Rescue System that will contribute to the growing collaborative effort of eradicating all forms of modern day slavery by harnessing mobile phone technology?

A global communications system, with obvious benefits to a large group of people with the bi-product of developing solutions that will potentially benefit the tech community by illuminating patterns and trends around illicit trade; of which enslaved people are a part and intellectual property theft is a part.

We hope that you will join us to hear more, share challenges, and evolve best practices together.  We are seeking Partners willing to work on impactful positive change, and resources to finance the initiative.


Andrew Wallis Email: andrew@unseenuk.org.                                                                              

 The Breakout Session

The problem: Human trafficking and enslavement.

The proposed solution:  A singular, global number that an enslaved person can contact in order to receive rescue assistance.

Not so unlikely story #1:  Imagine a farm worker who works and pays his taxes.  He earns minimum wage and a gang master forces him to live on a property that he owns at extortionate rates.  This puts the farm worker into debt bondage at which point the labourer relinquishes control of his bank accounts to the gang master.  The gang master then uses the labourer’s accounts for money laundering purposes and is able to force double shifts on the labourer because of the labourer’s debt that he needs to pay back.  If he refuses or “steps out of line” he is beaten.  From here any further exploitation is possible.

Not so unlikely story #2: A university educated Czech student flies to England thinking that she has a job in a hotel over the summer.  She arranged the job online, the pay rates were legitimate, and so was the arrangement.  She arrives at Bristol airport and because she is an EU resident she walks straight through immigration.  From there she gets in a car and meets the person she has arranged to liaison with upon her arrival in the UK.  She gives the person her passport and that is the last time she sees it.  She is driven somewhere and is exploited in terrible ways.

What if these people had the option to reach out and say: “I have now found myself in this situation. . .HELP!!!”

Hugh Bradley, CTO for Telstra Corp. says there are three aspects of enacting the solution of a global referral center.  The message, the action and enforcement of a rescue.

For action we turn to the example of Interpoll.  This company is a non-profit, non-governmental organization.  According to its website: “INTERPOL is the world’s largest international police organization, with 190 member countries. ”  According to Michael Geraghty, CTO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Interpol works as a referral system.  He calls it a “virtual private network.”  The challenges in organization of this endeavour are immense, and even with this system many countries have their own hotlines to report sex slavery.  This means a possible challenge of integrating up to 190 different hotlines!

We now turn to enforcement.  The complexity and difficulty of this issue is demonstrated in Holland, where it has been shown that 70% of prostitutes (after sex labour was legalized) were trafficked from other countries such as Romania, Hungary and Ukraine.  The Dutch government receives taxes from this trade, so what does that mean for enforcement?

An alternative to Hugh’s 3-step model of message, action and enforcement in order to enact a one-stop distress phone line is a Global Preventive action plan.   The best idea for prevention involves something coined as, “Hidden in plain view.”  Once upon a time, a nun who witnessed trafficking in a Minneapolis hotel could not get the hotel to sign an oath that they would not allow prostitution to take place under their roof.  Why not create a local alliance that agrees to certain principles, between hotels, restaurants, manufacturers, and even the government with governors, attorney generals and Senators?  It could provide stamps of certification that become as powerful as the “organic” stamp on food.

Technology has a definite place in any solution.   There is a way to mine data through key words used in child prostitution ads that allow child trafficking location patterns to emerge.  For example, certain words and certain ads will show up in one state.  Once they are identified with child prostitution and sought after, the advertisement will disappear only to resurface in yet another location.  In this sense the movement of traffickers can be documented and tracked.  Thanks to technology, this process no longer has to be done by hand.

Julia Ormond, President and Founder of Alliance to Stop Slavery and Trafficking (ASSET), argues that when given agency people will act to protect themselves.  She describes the example of an 8 year old girl who was taught to kick and scream and fight when touched by a stranger in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.  Due to this “agency,” or her knowledge of what to do in that situation, the child was able to successfully free herself from the grips of a stranger in a grocery store.

The agency that ASSET and Unseen, founded by CEO, Andrew Wallis, want to provide victims is a single contact number, as described earlier in Hugh Bradford’s model.  So what specific technologies are involved?

According to Hugh, getting a global 800 number would be a huge challenge.  The platform for cellular service would be GSMA (cellular phones in networks search for towers in those networks).  The appropriate platform for landlines would be the ITU which in its own words is: the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies.  We allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, [and] develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect [. . .].”  As a result, Hugh mentions that the UN must eventually become involved.  The problem with GSMA is that is only is used in 80% of the world, excluding some parts of America and China, as well as other areas.

The good news is that it would be possible to put in a free routed text to an organization using any service.  Similar to the *77 number that is needed to get to Vodafone service when using a new Vodafone SIM card in the Czech Republic, the call could be free and easily routed to the same station from multiple services.  This means that Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile could all forward calls easily to the same place using this method.  In return, the organization receiving the calls can see a phone number and a rough sense of where the call originated from.  This would enable a certain amount of interaction with the sending party, such as sending a message asking whether the person is in a situation that enables him or her to respond to an outright call.

Every big project begins with baby steps, so what is the first step for ASSET and Unseen?  Hugh suggested that he could set up an experimental system in a limited number of jurisdictions (USA, Australia and England) to test the waters and capabilities of a single number.