Last year, we wrote about forced child labor, human trafficking, how the supply chain  creates an ecosystem for these to thrive, and what we need to start doing to interrupt these crimes against humanity. Since that supply chain human trafficking article went live, so much has changed, and I wanted to share those updates with you, because the more lights we shine into the darkness, the less we can't see. 

There's A Lot of Darkness

According to the International Labour Organization, Human Trafficking is a one hundred fifty billion dollar industry with forty million victims today who might be making your clothes, cleaning your hotel room, or building a sports arena as modern day slaves. This is happening all around us. California, has three of the top five US cities cited for human trafficking abuses: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Right now, there are over forty million men, women, and children in labor and sex slavery and here is the most important you should know about that number:

Statistics are on the rise and don't reflect the actual number or breadth and depth of human trafficking in the United States and abroad.

Kimberly Adams, Founder of Flying Bridges, a business that is making the connections between law enforcement, brands, and technology, has been developing a reporting and tracking tool called Griffin - a machine learning tool to share and gather information across sectors but will help business - who are also victims of human trafficking - detect criminal networks infiltrating their supply chain. Adams noted when I checked in with her recently:

"We are excited to use the power of AI to, and for the first time, accurately report the number of human trafficking cases and detect vulnerable populations and their traffickers.  Currently, most human trafficking cases are misclassified as domestic violence, child abuse, labor violations or prostitution. Moreover because of its complex definition, involving the use of fraud, coercion​, or force, victims rarely report or understand they have been trafficked.  This creates policies and enforcement resource allocations that cannot possibly combat human trafficking. Machine learning is ideal for this and Griffin is being designed to identify and report the bigger picture."

AI Is A Bright Light in Detection

When I saw the news that Backpage.com was being shut down, and had been the target of a major investigation, I breathed a sigh of relief. Because, while I've never been the target market for sites like this one, I know they exist out there, and I know they are a hurricane of damage in every direction. Backpage was always monitored for trafficking, but now, there are more intuitive and resourceful tools that law enforcement can use to quickly and efficiently scan sites. Traffic Jam, from Marinus Analytics, uses AI facial recognition to scan and match online ads with missing persons, and does this with an eighty-eight percent success rate. 

Facebook Is On Board Too

AI helps us use data to understand human behaviors, with pattern recognition and the compilation of complex data into simple tasks and readable feedback. Facebook uses AI software to flag sexualized images and shares that information with the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Facebook reported that they had detected 8.7 million images within a three month period, an alarming number when you consider that each of those represent human beings in potential harm. 

With the support of The United Nations, and a global goal of eradicating slavery and sex trafficking by 2030, we are seeing even more use cases showing up where technology is filling a void that has never been filled. Imagine the efficiency of AI scanning and graphing data versus law enforcement sifting through page and profile after page and profile attempting to recognize patterns, compile the data, and match missing persons with ads or workers... globally. The impossibility of the task is part of the reason progress has been slow. 

Tracking Slavery from Space

This 150-billion dollar per year industry places trafficking and forced labor in the same arena with big business like Amazon, who pulled in $177.9 billion in 2017. With that kind of reach, it makes sense to approach this globally, which is exactly what Planet Labs and The Rights Lab's "Slavery from Space" is doing. These programs combine machine learning with science to capture data by satellites, which is both amazing, and inspiring, that we are pooling available resources to boost new technology. 

Visibility Is Everything

Whether we are talking about visibility of the victims or visibility of the participants, one way we can continue progress is by illuminating every aspect of this crisis. In the UK, suppliers who are not complying with the Modern Slavery Act, will be "named and shamed". In 2017, A Geodis Supply Chain Worldwide Survey ranked supply chain visibility as the third top objective by supply chain professionals. And while only six percent of participants reported full visibility in their suppliers, looking to the future, they see the gap and want to fill it.
 

Published on: Jul 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.