From Cambodia to India, job matching sites and mobile apps take aim at trafficking

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Technology innovations such as a free recruitment service for low-skilled workers in Cambodia and mobile apps for on-demand domestic workers in India could help curb trafficking by eliminating fraudulent middlemen, their developers say.

Cambodia and India are among source, transit and destination countries for men, women and children forced into labor and sex trafficking. Most victims are poor and uneducated, lured from villages by the promise of good jobs in neighboring countries.

They end up being sold to brothels or enslaved in low-paying jobs in the construction, seafood or hospitality industries.

“The best way to prevent human trafficking is to provide people at risk of being trafficked with livelihood opportunities and access to local jobs,” said Sara Piazzano at Winrock International, which implements the anti-trafficking program of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cambodia.

Bong Pheak, a free recruitment service for low-skilled workers, combines the web, Facebook and phone calls to reach even those who do not have access to the internet.

Launched in October 2016, about 20,000 potential workers access the service every month, with some 500 employers registered, said Federico Barreras of Open Institute, a non-profit that developed the service with funding from USAID.

All employers on the site are verified, and the Open Institute follows up with workers who are hired to make sure they receive promised benefits, and are treated fairly, he said. About 45 percent of users are women, he said.

There is also a “report abuse” tool on Bong Pheak, which was named the most important technology-for-development initiative in Southeast Asia this year.

“The aim is to promote safe employment options in Cambodia, so low-skilled workers have choices other than migrating, which makes them vulnerable to trafficking,” Barreras said.

“We are looking to expand the service to other countries in the region, as well, and permanently reduce vulnerability to human trafficking,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Other innovations in the region include a data collection app to share information on trafficking victims across borders, and a planned platform to monitor labor conditions aboard fishing vessels.

In India, mobile apps matching domestic workers with employers is helping poor women bypass fraudulent middlemen amidst growing demand for cooks and babysitters.

“These women have always depended on middlemen to bring them to the city and place them with an employer. But the middleman often trafficks them,” said Anupam Sinhal, co-founder of on-demand domestic work firms BookMyBai (maid) and NanoJobs.

“That process is changing as smartphones get cheaper and women become more aware. It is keeping these women safer.”