Jan 11, 2022
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How banks can help counter Human Trafficking

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Today marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. While predominately recognised in the US, it is for sure a global issue that banks can help address with the right technology and training, according to Brian Ferro, director of AML at Feedzai and certified anti-money laundering specialist.
More than 40 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery, according to the latest data from the International Labour Organization. This figure includes almost 25 million people roped into forced labour and more than 15 million pressured into forced marriages. UNODC’s research found the number of children who fall victim to trafficking has tripled in the past 15 years, with the percentage of boys trafficked increasing fivefold in the same period. And that’s just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. There are signs that, with the number of people being out of work and school due to the pandemic, trafficking is only poised to get worse.
Ferro notes that banks and FIs can play a significant role in thwarting human trafficking and saving victims by embracing strong anti-money laundering practices. By acting as financial gatekeepers, FIs can stop the flow of illegal money into the financial system, alert authorities to investigate potential human trafficking crimes.
He offered some guidance for banks and FIs looking to make a positive impact on real people’s lives by countering human trafficking:
Technology has made it easier for criminals to profit from human trafficking. Technologies like remote onboarding and person-to-person transfers make it easier than ever for these bad actors to move money and evade detection. But banks can also use technology to uncover patterns linked to money laundering and disrupt traffickers’ networks. It’s also important for banks not to think of this as a cost function. If your bank’s efforts are only successful in rescuing even one victim from others’ control or exploitation, the surveillance investment is worth every dollar. Efforts like these will position banks and their people as champions of humankind.
Bank staff are usually on the front lines of anti-trafficking efforts. Banks should invest in training their tellers to understand and respond to signs that someone might be in danger or possibly a victim of trafficking. An older man accompanied by several scared-looking younger women could be signs of trouble, for instance. Many banks have trained their staff to look for signs of similar crimes (like elder abuse) and offered a trafficking hotline to report them. Many trafficking hotlines allow staff to make anonymous reports that can be used to open investigations. Empowering front line staff with the training and tools can help them look out for customers’ (and people as a whole) best interests.
Banks should already have open lines of communication with law enforcement both in their local communities and regional level. If bank staff suspect they witnessed a human trafficking incident, they should consult with their police contacts. Law enforcement frequently partners with non-profit organisations and advocacy groups that support human trafficking victims and provides them with the resources to get out their current situations and take back control of their lives.
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