On May 18, 2012 a congressional briefing on “New Technological Approaches to Combating Modern-Day Slavery” was held focusing on the use of technology to deter human trafficking and increase awareness of its existence. The briefing was organized by SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Scholar Angel W. Colón-Rivera who serves as Policy Advisor for Congressman Hastings. The briefing was organized into two panels of speakers, the first made up of representatives of government agencies and the second of non-governmentally affiliated organizations.
Noopur Agarwal represented MTVU’s “Against Our Will” project. MTVU, an MTV network that targets college students, chose modern slavery as a focus after their viewers expressed interest in the topic. Ms. Agarwal noted that college students are a particularly important group to bring awareness to. College students provide much of the demand for consumer products that have slavery along their supply chains and are also a demographic among which involvement in commercial sex is particularly high. College students are also an excellent audience from which to garner support and advocacy for the issue of modern slavery. MTVU’s “Against Our Will” project aired short films showing modern day slavery and launched online resources for college students to get involved in bring awareness to their campuses and representatives. In addition, a “campus challenge” competition offered a prize to the school that took the most action to combat modern slavery.
Julie Cordua, represented The DNA Foundation, a counter sex-trafficking organization founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Ms. Cordua said The DNA Foundation has dedicated 100% of its resources to focus on new technology to stop child exploitation. This includes technology task forces to study the use of technology in trafficking. Ms. Cordua noted that the lack of comprehensive data on the techniques used by traffickers limits law enforcement’s ability to combat it. The DNA Foundation plans to increase research and fuel innovation in order to find better methods of deterrence and increase the visibility of child exploitation. Ms. Cordua talked about the ways a continuous database on human trafficking, shared across different industries, could aid in identifying patterns of trafficking and expose its strengths and weaknesses. Such a database could also be used to audit how companies catch and remove slavery from their production chains, aid in combating child pornography, and deter future trafficking. Ms. Cordua also spoke of the necessity of motivating the private sector to join the movement to end modern slavery, noting that the private sector contains an abundance of resources and human potential for developing new technology.
Terry FitzPatrick, researcher, journalist, and filmmaker from Free the Slaves opened by congratulating those involved in the passing of California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act. He expressed hope that similar legislation, introduced by Representative Maloney, would be passed in order to require transparency of businesses nation-wide. He spoke of Free the Slaves work in over six countries, and its commitment to combat forced labor and sex slavery. Mr. FitzPatrick outlined several technological areas Free the Slaves wishes to develop to combat slavery. The first, involving “new technology,” include satellite surveillance and database development and sharing. FitzPatrick noted that the tools for satellite surveillance already exist, and that photographs such as those on Google earth photos could be used to target locations in which forced labor is likely being used. This would be facilitated by the development of software that could pick out key characteristics out of millions of satellite images. The development of an international database with more comprehensive information on the prevalence and practices of human traffickers could increase the success of enforcement measures and also increase compliance among businesses.
Mr. Fitzpatrick also discussed using old technological methods for reaching slaves. Radio broadcast could be used to inform slaves of their rights and options, as well as offer advice on how to escape captivity. Another method he discussed was cell phone communication, emphasizing communication methods such as free SMS and hotlines that can be used on all mobile devices and not just smart phones or mobiles with internet access. Mr. FitzPatrick also noted the need to educate remote communities on slavery and what they could to combat it. Such education could take place by taking films on labor exploitation to remote areas for community “movie nights.” This effort would not only seek to educate those who are most vulnerable to human trafficking and labor exploitation, but also to empower them to combat slavery within their areas.
Kristina A. Carter
SPSSI Summer Intern