By Published On: December 18th, 2020

Data and mapping: Stop the Traffik uses tech to fight human trafficking

The noble people who run Stop the Traffik (STT) are hard to nail down. They’re intensely dedicated to fighting human trafficking, which means they’re working around the clock. Since human traffickers never sleep, neither do the people who are working to stop them.

I feel lucky to have had time with Neil Giles, Director of the Centre of Intelligence-Led Prevention at STT, on the heels of the organization’s Bay Area Facebook campaign launch. Here’s a shortened version of our conversation.

Neil Giles

What is Stop the Traffik?

We are a UK-based organization that fights human trafficking around the world. Our mission is to educate and protect vulnerable communities from trafficking. We created several programs to address various aspects of trafficking, mainly a data collection function that tells us where trafficking is happening and who is at risk. Traditionally there’s been a shortage of human trafficking data, and without it, we can’t know where and how the problem exists and what solutions will work.

Why does Stop the Traffik focus on data collection?

The anti-trafficking movement doesn’t have a complete understanding of human trafficking—what it looks like, where it happens, the complex global networks and transportation routes. We talk about data but we don’t have a developed infrastructure to collect and store the information. Many organizations are focused on investigating crimes, or victim rescue and rehabilitation. We also come up against privacy issues when you consider we have to gather victims’ personal experiences in order to paint the picture of what’s happening. We need those stories to create solutions and secure funding, but understandably, few have trusted that the data is dependable and secure.

Can you give me some examples of how you work with data and technology?

Through data, we discovered a major transport route between Libya and Italy. We also use the data to create campaigns that educate people in hotspots like this about what signs to look for and what to do. Recently, we ran a campaign in the Bay Area targeting San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, which are major trafficking hubs in the United States.

We also give people a way to take action without putting themselves in danger. Witnesses can anonymously submit an incident via our STOP APP. Other STT programs include resilience and awareness training in hotspot regions that give communities ways to protect themselves, and risk analysis for businesses that want to eradicate labor exploitation from their supply chains.

How did you come to STT and what is your role?

I led investigations for London’s Metropolitan Police for 30 years, specializing in intelligence collection. Later on, I worked in organized crime. That’s when I realized how complex human trafficking is and that law enforcement needs better training to recognize it and respond. I wanted to make trafficking transparent and change the cultures that are comfortable using slavery.

Ten years ago I joined STT as the Director of the Centre of Intelligence-Led Prevention. Around the time I joined is when we began our journey to understand regional hotspots, trafficking routes and trends. This work led to our current campaign program, which I talk more about later in this interview.

What gap is STT filling in the fight against human trafficking?

STT has become a trusted custodian of human trafficking data due to our expertise, our secure platform where we share the data, and our ability to analyze and translate the information in a practical way.

IBM is our technology partner. The company granted us their iBase software, which secures data and allows us to shape a story about what’s happening on the ground. We’re currently working with them on their Watson technology to advance how we use the data more effectively, which will be ready later this year.

And since trafficking lives in every corner of the world, we’ve been building an anti-trafficking consortium of organizations to share knowledge and specialties. Groups include NGOs, law enforcement, government, media, banks and others. Through this work, many are starting to share more stories because they trust the systems we’ve put in place and see the benefits.

You recently ran a Facebook awareness campaign in the Bay Area. How was that campaign different from those you’ve done in other parts of the world?

All campaigns are a journey to understand how a campaign will work best in a particular region. In each area, we have different partners, from law enforcement to nonprofits offering survivor services, who help shape a campaign unique to that area. The Bay Area is a very sophisticated community, which makes it a distinctive testing ground. Believe it or not, fewer people rely on social media in the Bay versus places like Eastern Europe and India where social media is newer to those markets and the primary tool for finding information. Social media campaigns are more successful there because of this pattern.

What changes have you seen as a result of STT’s work?

Many major chocolate houses including Mars, Mondelez and Nestle, have built sophisticated programs in an effort to keep their supply chains clean. They invest in their farmers and education programs to make sure children aren’t being exploited.

We’re also seeing changes in the banking industry. STT helped create the first red flag manual in Europe. Banks use the manual to identify risk transactions associated with human trafficking. J.P. Morgan, Western Union and Thomson Reuters were several organizations that created the first manual in the U.S. in 2013. Asia, South America and other regions aren’t far behind in creating theirs. I firmly believe that we’ll see much faster results with bank involvement—if a company is engaged with slavery, banks can choose to deny them credit.

What is the vision for STT?

We want to create a global, information-sharing franchise for organizations like Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services and many others working around the world to end trafficking. They’d invest in the infrastructure we’re creating to set up offices around the world, each as a data collection point to share globally via one central, secure database that we are creating and would manage. Ultimately, we’d have centers around the world building awareness and resilience against human trafficking.