IBM and NGO Stop The Traffik believe predictive intelligence could be used to break apart the modern slave trade. The problem, however, is human trafficking occurs all over the world and the data needed to spot patterns and identify criminals is hidden in organisations around the globe.

Caroline Taylor, vice president and CMO of IBM Global Markets, explained how cloud technology, AI and ML could be used to tackle the crime and how banks and retailers can take part in the fight.

Speaking last week at IBM’s Think conference in Sydney, Taylor emphasised modern slavery or human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world with 40 million people enslaved today, generating profits of US$150 billion a year.

“This is not a fight the good guys are winning — yet,” she said.

Taylor, pictured above, has been involved with Stop The Traffik for 15 years, initially doing pro bono marketing work and later becoming the chair of the board of trustees.

Stop The Traffik was initially focused on raising awareness, for example educating people to make different choices with their money that wouldn’t benefit traffickers, like not buying a $1 t-shirt or choosing fair trade tea, coffee or chocolate. But their efforts and IBM’s involvement have evolved.

“Awareness, whilst important is just not enough. We came to the realisation the focus had to be on prevention,” Taylor said.

More recently the organisation has worked with IBM to create a data sharing platform and utilises IBM’s i2 analytics software, which is used by law enforcement around the world, to uncover patterns related to human trafficking

Hosted on the IBM cloud, the Traffik Analysis Hub (TAHub) collates information from NGOs, commercial organisations like global banks and law enforcement, public domain data from 200,000 news sources every day.

“Now we can generate this predictive, preventative intelligence and we can take action on it,” Taylor said.

The tool is trained to recognise and detect specific human trafficking terms and incidents while ingesting open-source data at scale – including thousands of daily news feeds – to help analysts identify the characteristics of human trafficking incidents (such as recruitment and transportation methods) more easily.

“What starts as a little piece of information from a bank, an alert around anti-money laundering, can turn into something that can actually identify a trafficking ring,” Taylor said.

“In just the first three months of Stop The Traffik having access to this powerful technology, just based on their data and working in partnership with a few other organisations like Western Union and Europol… they were able to identify a trafficking network in Brussels. As a result 32 people traffickers were arrested.”

Taylor appealed to the delegates attending the event to encourage their organisations to contribute to the data sets.

“There is probably information that would be useful to fight this crime in every single one of our organisations around the world, somewhere, but we don’t know it. It’s hidden,” she said.

“It’s hidden in the narrative of survivors and it’s hidden in commercial organisations whether they are banks or retailers and it’s hidden in their supply chains and it’s hidden in law enforcement and government agencies.”

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