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PayPal teams up with U.S. group to combat human trafficking

by Matthew Lavietes | @mattlavietes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 17 January 2020 18:39 GMT

A pedestrian walks past the PayPal logo at an office building in Berlin, Germany, March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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Banks and other financial institutions are under pressure to stop traffickers from laundering cash

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, Jan 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - PayPal Holdings Inc will join forces with a leading U.S. anti-trafficking group in an effort to identify illegal money transactions, helping launch a specialized team to develop new ways of spotting criminal financial activity.

Human traffickers often force people into modern slavery which generates around $150 billion a year in illegal profits, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Banks and other financial institutions are under pressure to stop traffickers from laundering cash and, on Thursday, anti-trafficking group, Polaris, said it would work with PayPal to identify red flag transactions.

Polaris, which runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, will be creating a financial intelligence unit, with donated support and experts from Polaris.

The new unit, which also will include law enforcement experts, will research new and innovative ways to recognize financial transactions that could signal human trafficking, PayPal and Polaris said.

PayPal is not sharing its financial data, a spokeswoman said.

The scheme will identify "those who profit off of the exploitation of others and provide actionable information to law enforcement," Sara Crowe, director of Polaris's strategic initiative on financial systems, said in a statement.

More than 40 million people are enslaved around the world, according to the ILO, in sexual exploitation and marriages they did not consent to and in places including homes and factories.

Rights groups have pushed for greater collaboration between governments, companies and non-profits to tighten the noose on traffickers.

"PayPal and Polaris coming together is a great example of private and non-profit entities joining forces to achieve a positive social impact that neither party could fully realize on their own," said Aaron Karczmer, Paypal's chief risk officer.

Trafficking experts applauded the announcement.

"Human trafficking exists for one simple reason: profit," Luis C.deBaca, former U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador-at-large, said in a statement.

"Working with financial institutions to understand how traffickers use their services has the potential to... make exploitation more risky and therefore less profitable," he said.

Last year, dozens of banks signed up to a United Nations program to offer trafficking survivors accounts and debit cards, tools they may lack if their captor stole their financial identity or ruined their credit.

Ending modern slavery is among the targets of the 17 global goals adopted by the 193 member nations of the U.N. three years ago to promote such issues as gender equality and sustainable energy and end poverty, inequality and other world woes by 2030. (Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Tom Finn)

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