By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, July 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world is at a "tipping point" in the drive to end modern slavery as awareness increases, but must target finances to thwart human trafficking networks, a survivor turned business leader said on Monday.
Corporations, charities and governments must share data and work together better if they are to take down criminal gangs and traffickers - and targeting dirty money flows could dent their thriving illicit operations, according to U.S.-based Rani Hong.
Her anti-trafficking social enterprise, or business that seeks to do good, Rani's Voice has joined a new coalition that includes policing agency Europol, news and information company Thomson Reuters, and the World Economic Forum to boost the fight against financial crime and modern-day slavery.
Traffickers need financial institutions to move and launder money, making cooperation with banks and credit-card companies critical to tackle a trade estimated to affect 40 million people and make $150 billion a year in illegal profits, activists say.
"Traffickers and criminals have long relied on huge networks to grow their businesses, but through this coalition - we also have a strong network that can help to fight back," Hong told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the United Nations.
"We are in a new era ... at a tipping point," she said from an event to mark U.N. World Day against Trafficking in Persons. "People are listening, they now understand it (modern slavery)".
A recently-launched toolkit will help financial institutions uncover profits from trafficking moving through their systems, said the anti-trafficking group United States Banks Alliance, which was formed this year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Less than 1 percent of the estimated $1.5 trillion plus laundered by criminals worldwide each year through the financial system is frozen or confiscated, the United Nations estimates.
"The finance industry has a key role to play in fighting trafficking," Neil Giles, a director at global anti-slavery group Stop the Traffik, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We need to help financial institutions to up their game ... to be alert to suspicious transactions," he added. "Targeting traffickers finances is the only silver bullet we have got."
Hong, who was stolen from her family in India as a child and sold into the slave trade before being illegally adopted by a family in the United States, said she hoped such personal tales would help bring the issue to life for people around the world.
"Survivors like myself bring a name and a face to the topic of modern slavery," said Hong, whose work includes supporting victims, public speaking and training around slavery, and a certification scheme for products made without slave labour.
"We need to humanise the issue - so that people can really relate and realise it's not just about a statistic or a number."
Thomson Reuters, controlled by Canada’s Thomson family, is the parent of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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