BT, Microsoft and Nokia team up to combat human trafficking in supply chains

Communication and technology giants BT, Microsoft and Nokia are part of a group of organisations that have partnered with the United Nations (UN) to develop technologies that help tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in supply chains.

The coalition of companies, along with support from NGOs like techUK and civil service providers, will map and analyse existing technology-focused initiatives to tackle human rights issues, with a view to making these services more unified.

Once the mapping is complete, members of the coalition, called Tech Against Trafficking, will develop a three-year programme to build on and amplify the potential of some of these technologies.  

“Human trafficking is a massive problem, and our efforts to eradicate it must be coordinated and collaborative,” Microsoft’s protection services unit director, Mike Carter, said.

“We’ve already seen positive results when working across the industry, and this new programme will soon be a force multiplier.”

Existing tech-based solutions to forced labour include apps which allow first-line responders, the public, and vulnerable workers to raise awareness, access resources and report concerns. National helplines to raise awareness, support victims, and serve as hubs of data collection also exist, as do supply chain transparency tools.

Blockchain is additionally touted as an emerging solution, as it can help companies understand what is happening in their supply chains, improve product traceability or verify safe migration routes.

The coalition will seek to improve some of these solutions, and to encourage the producers of such technologies to work together to combat trafficking gangs.

The launch of the group was welcomed by anti-slavery charity Unseen’s chief executive, Andrew Wallis, who said that business engagement is “essential”, as the number of people identified as slaves continues to increase each year.

“It’s great to see these organisations leading the way in their commitment to the issue; they bring a fantastic amount of technical expertise, in addition to huge clout,” Wallis said.

“Technology offers transformational potential not just to disrupt and reduce modern slavery, but to support care and remedy mechanisms for survivors.”

As well as businesses, Tech Against Trafficking members include global non-profit BSR and the RESPECT initiative, which encompasses several NGOs aimed at championing human rights.

Scrutinising supply chains

The launch of Tech Against Trafficking came days after edie’s Sustainable Supply Chains conference, which saw representatives from the likes of Marks and Spencer (M&S), Innocent Drinks and PwC call on sustainability professionals to make tackling modern slavery a “business-critical” issue.

The business representatives warned that no business was immune to forced labour, child labour and other human rights breaches in its supply chain, as they urged delegates to embed tougher human rights goals in supplier vetting measures.

You can read our coverage of that discussion by clicking here.

Sarah George

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