New paper issued on using financial data to fight human trafficking

by Thomson Reuters Foundation | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 10 January 2014 08:30 GMT

A 19-year-old trafficking victim from central Myanmar who, two years ago, managed to escape two brokers who promised a job in a nearby town but instead took her to a town in the far north and tried to get her to become a sex worker. October 12, 2012. REUTERS/Minzayar

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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new paper on how to recognise and fight human trafficking using financial data was issued on Friday by the Manhattan District Attorney, Thomson Reuters Foundation and some of the world’s leading financial institutions, according to a statement by the group.

The document aims to provide guidance to financial institutions and law enforcement agencies in the United States and internationally on how to identify irregularities and suspicious financial transactions that might be indicators of human trafficking activity, the statement said.

“Prosecutors need every available tool in the fight against modern day slavery, and financial forensics are amongst the strongest in our arsenal,” Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr said. “Human trafficking, at its core, is a business. Like other businesses, it leaves a financial paper trail that can be tracked and used to identify trafficking networks.”

“With the help of banks and other financial institutions, my Office has been able to secure convictions against traffickers without having to rely solely on the testimony of victims who often suffer emotional, physical, or sexual abuse,” he added.

“Data is the ultimate tool in the global fight against human trafficking. If you follow the data, you can get to the criminal organizations behind it. In this day and age, any attempt to take on human trafficking successfully must include concerted efforts among financial institutions, prosecutors and NGOs active in the field,” said CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation Monique Villa.

The paper was drawn up in consultation with non-governmental organizations working with human trafficking survivors in order to make it easier to identify  the ‘financial behaviour’ of human traffickers.

Examples of suspicious financial behaviour outlined in the paper  include recurrent business transactions taking place outside the time of known business operations, cross-border transfers of funds that are inconsistent with the stated business purpose of the financial institution’s customer, and a high number of individual accounts opened and closed simultaneously.

Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup,JPMorgan Chase, TD Bank, Wells Fargo, American Express and Western Union are the financial institutions that joined the working group, alongside organisations like the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center and the Polaris Project, and Theodore S. Greenberg, president and founder of TG Global.

It is hard to determine how many people are trafficked worldwide every year as figures vary widely from country to country.

Some 30 million people worldwide are victims of sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour and other forms of modern slavery, according to a global slavery index published last year by anti-slavery charity Walk Free Foundation.

Moreover, an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people are smuggled into the United States each year and forced to work as domestic servants, labourers or in the sex trade, according to estimates from the DA's office.

In November, a Vatican study group said human trafficking was a crime against humanity and recommended it be recognized and prosecuted as such by international and regional courts.  

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