Context and the fight against forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking
Written by Matthew Long
Published: 22nd Jul 2020
More than 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in modern slavery worldwide, with over 100,000 victims estimated in the UK alone. As the pandemic sparks fears that increased poverty could worsen this situation, the recent exposure of suppliers underpaying workers in Leicester was a grim reminder of the reality of modern day slavery.
The UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commission (IASC) recently published a review on the UK Police investigation, “Operation Fort”, which involved an organized criminal group infiltrating the supply chains of various UK companies and trafficking an estimated 400 victims with the false promise of employment.
The investigation – the largest of its kind undertaken in Europe – resulted in the successful conviction of eight members of a Polish criminal gang for slavery, trafficking, and money laundering offenses. They were part of the largest modern slavery network ever to be uncovered in the UK. The IASC report details how, on arrival in the UK, the victims were forced to live in squalid conditions and work extremely long hours on construction projects, farms, factories, waste recycling plants, and parcel sorting warehouses. They were also forced to carry out building and maintenance work on numerous properties owned by the criminal network; all of this for as little as £20 ($25) a week.
Money laundering, forced labor, and modern slavery
“Money laundering was closely intertwined with modern slavery in Operation Fort. In fact, financial information accounted for a third of all evidence submitted by prosecutors for the trial. The traffickers used seven different banks to hide the proceeds of their crimes, employing a variety of tactics to ensure that victims could not access their money.
To maximize profits, the organized crime group took out loans, made false insurance claims and applied for benefits on behalf of the victims. The activity created a trail of patterns and indicators that, when better understood, could be used to detect and disrupt such money laundering operations.”
Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, OPERATION FORT: What businesses should learn from the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution report
This report highlights that at the heart of forced labor, in all its forms including modern slavery and human trafficking, is the exploitation of vulnerable people for financial gain. This makes the financial services industry a key component in facilitating these crimes and a focus area to fight the issue – particularly businesses exposed to cash or cash equivalents, such as money services, remittance businesses, and retail banking.
For example, to help launder the resulting proceeds of an illicit act, criminals or their representatives will use a range of personal and/or business accounts. From these accounts, a full range of legitimate financial products and services become available, including cross-border payments, correspondent banking and trade financing, as well as the manipulation and usage of usual everyday retail banking services.
These legitimate financial products enable criminals to fund activities such as recruitment advertising, flights and transport, food, entertainment, and accommodation for enslaved captives. They also help the criminal to create distance and complexity between themselves and the original illicit source of funds.
In addition, criminals may seek financial loans and bank investment in businesses linked to industries such as agriculture, cleaning, food packaging and processing, manufacturing, food service and hotels, retail, transport, and warehouse and distribution. While appearing legitimate on the surface, these industries are considered to have high-risk exposure to forced labor and modern slavery due to their complex supply chains and historic recruitment of migrant workers.
Uncovering criminal activity
Although criminals seek to anonymize themselves and their networks, financial footprints and data trails clearly exist and can be used to detect and disrupt these operations using technology to provide the necessary insights and intelligence to support investigations.
Uncovering suspected forced labor and human trafficking typologies are two of many issues tackled using contextual decision intelligence. By connecting the dots between information from NGOs and news sources databases of known traffickers, with internal data held by the financial institutions, you can gain actionable intelligence.
Traditional human intelligence is often gathered on the ground within a particular country by charities using news sources and hearsay. With many charities operating within one country alone, but a majority of trafficking happening between countries, this information needs to be shared with governmental and intra-governmental organizations to compile a profile of a trafficker or broader activity. This traditional intelligence, however, is usually not enough to rapidly identify a network of traffickers, particularly within financial services companies.
Now, financial institutions are helping to combine this human intelligence with innovative technologies that connect the bank’s internal data with third-party sources to unveil hidden connections.
A network example of exploitation within construction
Through the application of entity resolution and network generation, the following network identifies a range of forced labor and modern slavery risk indicators that suggest this construction project is undertaking labor exploitation using migrant workers.
This network is based on the following sample industry red flags run across a resolved dataset that combines the financial institution’s data with external third-party data to find and score hidden connections and behaviors.
- Construction projects that outsource labor supply to agencies rather than directly employing workers, giving limited oversight to the contracts that those workers have with the agency employing them.
- Construction agencies that recruit high volumes of migrant workers.
- Many workers are housed in one location and driven each day to and from the construction site.
Using a combination of human intelligence and digitally compiled insight, contextual decision intelligence is playing a progressively global role in detecting and fighting forced labor, through increasing transparency across the entire supply chain, helping to identify victims, traffickers, and their connections.
Combat modern slavery and forced labor using contextual decision intelligence
Using a combination of big data, network analytics and artificial intelligence, Quantexa uncovers hidden links between individuals and their transactions, addresses, associates, and company ties. By resolving seemingly unconnected entities, context-driven AI technology builds a detailed picture of the criminal’s network, and how the victim and the various professional enablers that facilitate forced labor are connected.
Click here to learn more about how contextual decision intelligence can help you fight financial crime, modern slavery, and forced labor using data.
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