December 3, 2018 / 5:36 AM / 10 days ago

London calling: Facebook and banks enlisted in drive to stop slavery

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From social media posts to educate immigrants threatened by modern slavery to teaching bank staff to recognize the warning signs, a drive to combat sex trafficking and forced labor among Romanian and Polish communities in London launched on Monday.

Bankers, police and campaigners have teamed up on a campaign to reach out to vulnerable people in Croydon, south London, and give advice regarding their rights, where to seek support and how to act if faced with sexual abuse or labor exploitation.

Organizers of the project - the first of its kind in London after similar initiatives elsewhere in Britain - say it aims to make people living in trafficking hotspots more wary of a crime that is evolving and growing nationwide, according to officials.

“We are trying to highlight people’s rights and direct them to local services by targeting them through social media,” said Neil Giles, a director at anti-slavery group Stop the Traffik.

“The more people we reach, the more our advice will be shared in Britain and back home (Romania and Poland) ... and the faster we can accelerate change in fighting modern-day slavery.”

Britain is home to about 136,000 slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index, and the government said in July it would review its landmark anti-slavery law amid fears it is failing to keep up with growing trends such as the use of child drug mules.

From construction sites and car washes to brothels, hundreds of suspected slavery victims hailing from Eastern Europe were referred to the government for processing and support last year.

The Croydon campaign is using targeted adverts on Facebook to share information about slavery in Romanian and Polish, and Giles said the tactic had hugely boosted awareness and discussions - both online and offline - in previous projects.

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment but said last month at a Stop the Traffik event that the social media giant was always looking to combat trafficking, and geotargeted adverts were valuable to engage with vulnerable communities.

“But social media on the whole is lagging behind and playing catch up ... criminals get the hang of technology way quicker than the good guys,” Giles told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The project is also being backed by Barclays Bank which said it has trained its staff on how to spot the signs of slavery, identify traffickers and victims, and report their suspicions.

The modern-day slave trade affects an estimated 40 million people worldwide and reaps some $150 billion each year in illegal profits for traffickers, the United Nations says.

“This is an important issue for us ... we know that those who are forcing people into modern slavery use bank accounts to launder the proceeds of crime or facilitate it,” said Paul Horlick, the director of Barclays’ financial intelligence unit.

Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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