ending slavery. restoring lives. a pieceful movement of many voices
Could you have possibly imagined that there are 30 million slaves in the world today, more than any other point in human history? Slavery is not limited to the brothels of Thailand or Cambodia, either. A 2011 CNN article estimated that there are 100,000 to 300,000 children between 11 and 14 who are vulnerable to being sold for sex by pimp-captors every year in the United States, according to government statistics.
Earlier this week President Obama declared January 2012 human trafficking prevention month, marking the government’s continued attention on the issue. The government, however hasn’t been the only player in the eradication of trafficking. Businesses have increasingly taken action not only to safeguard their services from being used by traffickers but also to apply their core expertise toward the eradication of trafficking.
At one time, sex trafficking was confined to brothels and street corners; today the practice has been transformed through the ease of online transactions, communications and logistics. A recent framework developed by Microsoft Research Connections described the Internet as the number one platform for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States: “Victims trafficked through pimp-controlled sex trafficking, escort services, in-call and out-call services, chat rooms, pornography, and brothels disguised as massage parlors are commonly marketed on websites such as Backpage.com, Eros.com, and others.”
While technology has undoubtedly exacerbated the problem, it has also worked in a plethora of ways to ameliorate the issue. For example, educating consumers on the demand side of trafficking has been dramatically assisted by media campaigns like the DNA Foundation’s Real Men Don’t Buy Girls campaign, featuring the likes of Justin Timberlake, NFL star players, and Ashton Kutcher, who can spread the campaign’s message to his 9 million plus twitter followers. Smartphone applications and interactive tools such as the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children’s Guide t... make education and prevention accessible. And CNN’s Freedom Project, devoted to digitally broadcasting more than 200 stories and a half-dozen documentaries on the issue of human trafficking and modern-day slavery, has led to nearly 2,000 people coming out of slavery since February 2011.
The opportunities and risks associated with the technology industry put companies in the sector in a unique position to use their services to create major change. Google and Microsoft have both identified anti-trafficking research initiatives as areas of focus in 2012. Microsoft recently issued a $150,000 request for proposals on the role of technology in the advertising and selling of victims for exploitation and the purchase of victims by “johns.” Google announced that the search engine will be providing $11.5 million in grants to 10 organizations working to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
A smaller niche player in the tech world is also hoping to leave its mark this year. Digital innovation agency Sarkissian Mason is offering a $100,000 grant to a nonprofit working in the anti-trafficking space. Founder and chief executive Patrick Sarkissian decided to combine the agency’s creative and digital expertise with nonprofit grassroots knowledge and insight on the issue to create a technology innovation with major impact. “Trafficking is such a huge issue that preys upon people throughout the world, including an alarming amount in the U.S.,” Sarkissian explained. “Offering this service grant is an exciting way for us to work closely with the issue and to innovate a product that can create major impact on the ground.” The agency received major creative kudos for its interactive guerrilla style homeless awareness campaign in New York City last year, and Sarkissian hopes it will be able to develop a similar educational/fundraising multimedia platform or a mobile technology solution to be integrated into the NGO partner’s programmatic activities.
With the rapid growth of social networking and technology innovation, business is in many ways better suited to tackle the issue of trafficking than even specialized government agencies. The U.S. government has taken an important leadership role in the fight against sex trafficking in recent years; recent initiatives like USAID’s launch of the Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge, and the State Department’s leadership and tracking of country compliance with international anti-trafficking laws are just two ways that the government is pushing its agenda at the grassroots and international policy levels.
The growth of anti-trafficking business initiatives – from the big technology players to the smaller agency level marks an exciting public-private synergy. The huge amount of skills and resources that these players bring offers real hope for the 30 million modern-day slaves around the world.