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Using big data to hunt down human traffickers
01:29 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Nick Grono is CEO of the Freedom Fund, which invests in local organizations working on the frontlines against modern slavery. Alex Thier is the CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. The views expressed in this commentary belong solely to the authors.

CNN  — 

A confederate flag carried into the temple of democracy in 2021 is a searing reminder that Americans all still bear the heavy legacy of slavery – in politics, in the economy, in the inequities of the health care system.

With the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the swearing in of Georgia’s first Black Senator Raphael Warnock and confirmation of first Native American cabinet Secretary Deb Haaland, America is once again pursuing the path of inclusion and repair. But more than one and a half centuries after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the road is still long, and there are hard choices to be made.

Even heavier, however, is the fact that slavery has not ended. Some 25 million human beings in the world today live in bondage, coerced and unpaid for their labor or forced into sexual slavery. Some families of those enslaved today – for example in the kilns and quarries of India – have been so for generations. Others – on fishing boats, in garment factories, domestic servants in countries far from their birth – were lured into slavery with the promise of decent work, and trapped there by debt and violence, impunity and neglect.

Even though slavery is a crime everywhere, it exists almost everywhere. This is not just a problem “over there” in poor countries far away. There are an estimated 400,000 people in bondage in the United States – including women and girls exploited in nail salons, massage parlors, brothels, and domestic servitude, and men in fields, slaughter houses, car washes and elsewhere. The numbers in Western Europe are equally grim.

This festering injustice, this stain on our collective conscience, requires a bold response – and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should lead it. Why?

First, the timing is right for an audacious US-led response that brings together public and private donors, civil society and survivors, allies and activists. A global movement has grown over the last two decades to combat modern slavery and human trafficking, but the financial, diplomatic, and law enforcement resources available are not equal to the challenge.

Mobilizing a broader coalition is a low-hanging fruit for new US leadership. The Biden Administration – with commitment from the White House, an empowered new envoy to counter trafficking in persons and modern slavery at the State Department, and bold leadership on human rights from USAID – could build the international coalition and resources needed for success.

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Fighting modern slavery on Florida farms
04:52 - Source: CNN

Second, ending modern slavery is a deeply bipartisan issue going back decades. Elevating anti-slavery efforts as a key administration and congressional priority would provide a strong foundation for cooperation on shared values in a polarized climate.

It is also an issue that resonates deeply with Americans across the political spectrum. Greater action in the US – on ending trafficking, on supporting survivors – would resonate at home and abroad. And greater action around the world – on prosecuting perpetrators and crooked recruiters, on removing child and slave labor from supply chains, on empowering vulnerable communities – would have an impact in the US.

More on modern slavery, from the CNN Freedom Project

Third, efforts over the last 20 years have shown us that it is possible to break the cycle of profit and impunity that allows modern slavery to persist. We know this because the organizations we lead have invested in solutions that are driving real change on the ground in a number of countries.

For example, the Freedom Fund’s work with local partners in districts of India with a very high level of bonded labor cut the number of households in bondage from over half down to just 12% in just four years – equating to 125,000 fewer individuals in extreme exploitation in these communities.

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery is working in countries like the Philippines to disrupt labor trafficking by investing in ethical recruiting agencies that will help make sure the 2 million Filipinos working abroad aren’t being tricked or sold into debt bondage. This effort is not only aimed at cutting off common pathways to enslavement, but creating a commercially viable – and therefore sustainable and scalable – solution.

Our experience shows that not only can investment make a big difference, but it can provide powerful models that can be replicated and scaled elsewhere. But the resources available to fight slavery are a tiny fraction of the profits made by those trafficking in flesh. While the United Nations conservatively estimates that modern slavery generates $150 billion a year in profits for the perpetrators, donor governments dedicate about one-thousandth of that amount to directly combating this crime. Given the disparity, it’s not surprising we’re struggling to make a dent in this horrific trade.

The road to re-establishing US leadership on human rights is long, and must be borne out with tangible steps. A bold response on ending modern slavery would be a powerful start. Bringing together a coalition of nations, activists, philanthropists, and corporations to end one of humanity’s greatest evils would be both achievable and inspirational to future generations looking at how to confront our biggest challenges.