This Friday, January 11th, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, an annual observance introduced further to a 2007 Senate resolution in the United States. Join us in donning a piece of blue clothing for #WearBlueDay and help us to encourage greater public awareness of this heinous, and all too pervasive, crime we are working to combat.
According to a 2017 report by anti-slavery NGO Walk Free Foundation and the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 40.3 million men, women and children were trapped in modern-day slavery in 2016 – a figure as overwhelming as it is shocking. A 2014 ILO report reported that this activity in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year.
A common misperception is that human trafficking is something that happens in developing nations only, not an activity taking place on our home turf. The most recent U.S. Justice Department statistics estimate that 14,500–17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year, and thousands of youth born in the United States are at risk for trafficking into the commercial sex industry. Human trafficking and modern slavery continue to be pervasive in almost all communities, and the need to raise great public awareness of this heinous crime is critical.
So, where does Western Union enter into this equation? Unfortunately, all financial institutions can be potential targets for those who wish to channel funds for illicit purposes and Western Union is by no means unique in this regard. We vigorously condemn activities facilitating human trafficking and devote significant resources to our Anti-Human Trafficking initiative to help detect, deter and report the misuse of our services.
In 2013, Western Union became a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Blue Campaign, an initiative that strives to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring to justice those who exploit human lives. We have provided the Blue Campaign’s multilingual training and awareness materials to Western Union Agents across the United States. These materials highlight the signs of human trafficking and how to accurately report them. Participating agents also receive additional training from us on how to detect a potential human trafficking victim and how to involve law enforcement.
More recently, we’ve announced our participation in a Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and U.S. Banks Alliance-led Anti-Human Trafficking Toolkit for the industry. In collaboration with other financial institutions and NGOs, the toolkit has been designed to help U.S.-based financial institutions fight human trafficking using financial data to identify and report irregularities in financial transactions that may be linked to human trafficking activity. This launch followed the May 2017 launch of a similar toolkit by the European Bankers Alliance, a multi-stakeholder working group established by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, of which Western Union is also a founding member.
In late 2018, we announced our participation in the launch of the first ever international data hub, unveiled by IBM and STOP THE TRAFFIK, a human trafficking prevention NGO. This data hub, using machine learning and structured data from contributors (who include NGOs, law enforcement and financial institutions) to identify the characteristics of human trafficking incidents, is designed to more easily facilitate the exchange of information about human trafficking across organizations.
It’s my firm belief that cross-sector collaboration that facilitates awareness and information, and enhances our understanding and ability to identify, disrupt and report suspicious activity pertaining to human trafficking is the most effective path to take to tackle the exploitation and trafficking of people.
In collaboration with law enforcement agencies, NGOs and other entities, our own Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has been involved in more than 1,400 investigations as of January 1, 2019, which have resulted in the rescue of 231 victims and 436 arrests.
Help us to spread awareness of this hateful crime and join us in #WearBlueDay this Friday!