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How Can AI Combat Modern-Day Slavery?

What does slavery look like in 2022?

Indentured labor remains a major source of income for criminal networks, worth a massive $50-150bn annually. Although this is not a central issue in the eyes of many British people, as recently as 2020, the Centre for Social Justice estimated that there were 100,000 or more modern slaves in the UK alone. Modern-day slavery can often be subtle and difficult to spot, so authorities and other organizations must use all the tools available to them to identify suspicious behavior. Although AI technology is rarely equated with human rights issues, the power to process huge amounts of raw data and identify issues can be a major advantage.

How is this perpetuated? 

To make money by exploiting human rights, gangs use a variety of psychological, financial, and physical techniques to exercise control over their unpaid laborers. Their victims are most often vulnerable people without an alternative – such as homeless people or those with substance dependencies. Sometimes the abused parties are so vulnerable they may not even be aware they are being exploited. A common case is debt bondage – where people repay the debt by working for little to no money. 

What can be done to prevent modern-day slavery?

As this crime is, by definition, illusive in its very nature, detecting and disrupting modern slavery is extremely challenging. The number of cases reported to police or law enforcement agencies reached 12,000 in 2021, but the overwhelming number of cases go unreported. This crime is as hidden as it is pervasive, with dire consequences for everyone involved. To combat this exploitation, companies, governing bodies, and wider society must work together to identify the indicators that suggest exploitation is taking place. 

Regulations, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) and the EU’s 6th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, are highlighting this issue and attempting to provide a framework for preventing the problem, but there is still a long way to go.

To put an end to indentured labor, businesses must employ strong management, social policies, and control frameworks. However, legacy technology and institutional bureaucracy both stand in the way of progress. This is because outdated technology does not facilitate the identification of victims, and organizational structures can often prevent victims from being helped in a timely fashion.

Companies and other organizations have a regulatory duty to identify anti-money laundering (AML) and enforce sanctions through solid awareness of their customers. Successful identification of money laundering activities may eventually uncover many nefarious individuals involved in human trafficking and modern slavery. However, more must be done as the detection of these activities remains limited. 

Monitoring payments linked to human trafficking is often particularly difficult. Small money transfers made to a few dozen migrant workers all at a few addresses are unlikely to lead to further investigation. 

Fortunately, there is significantly enhanced awareness of the issues and technology can now provide some vital support to companies, banks, and governments. 

What is the role of AI-powered tech?

As this is a complex issue to address, technology must be used in an effective way to reduce risk. Modern artificial intelligence (AI) uses machine learning (ML) to quickly and effectively process huge quantities of data to identify patterns. This increased speed is allowing compliance teams to tackle slavery and trafficking in ways that were simply not practical without this technology. Advanced data analytics drawn from AI helps companies to detect risk in their supply chain and customers. It can join the dots automatically to detect and flag potential cases of human trafficking and modern slavery. 

In today’s compliance landscape entity resolution and natural language processing (NLP) are being used to give suppliers and partners across the entire supply chain network a better understanding of whom they are working with and what kind of threat they may pose. As AI is now regularly used to manage huge swathes of data, technology is key in the fight against modern slavery in the following ways: 

  • Enhancing Due Diligence – Criminal networks involved in these practices have adopted methods to stay under the radar – by acquiring legitimate assets such as bank accounts, national insurance numbers, and tax details. These resources facilitate the movement and laundering of illegitimate funds while avoiding scrutiny by law enforcement and companies. Through these techniques, traffickers can assign victims’ names to well-paying jobs in the supply chain without paying them the promised funds. Organized crime members manage victims’ earnings by opening bank accounts in their names without giving them direct access.  This can be a fairly watertight method using the victim’s details.  However, AI analytics can spot connections among seemingly disconnected individuals, meaning that future know-your-customer processes will more reliably monitor for deception and violations and involve the law, as needed. At the heart of all criminal activity is money made. Making these crimes difficult or impossible to commit profitably will eventually reduce the number of people who suffer as a result of these crimes.
  • Employment Vetting – It is a widely held misconception to think that modern slaves are paid pitifully in cash or off-the-books. In contrast, through legitimate assets and tax codes, victims can unknowingly earn many thousands of pounds a year on paper while only receiving a small stipend in reality. However, since regulations have been tightened, employment agencies and supply chain managers are looking harder at workers’ details. The signs of abuse can be flagged by forming profiles of individuals from ambiguous and sparse datasets. 
  • Complex Investigations – Data fusion and AI can process data from any source, no matter how the data is presented. 

The application of AI, data fusion, and other methods is a crucial step in the battle against modern slavery and human rights abuses.
Risks can be flagged throughout the supply chain and help regulators, authorities and other organizations address the risks involved. Without AI to speed up the process of scanning data, the fight against modern-day slavery can often feel unwinnable so it is crucial to leverage all tools available.

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