In fight against human trafficking, FIs turn to AI

Most people today think of slavery as a barbaric system from a bygone era, but for millions of victims around the world, it continues to be a day-to-day reality. Now some financial institutions are working together to stop it.

According to research from the United Nations (UN), more than 40 million people worldwide were enslaved as of 2016, mostly through human trafficking rings, which earn criminals as much as $150 billion in profits. Many global financial institutions (FIs) often unwittingly handle and transmit those funds and, in many cases, finance goods and services that profit from human trafficking.

In recent years, the UN has worked to turn these banks from unwitting accomplices into allies in the fight against slavery. This fight is fronted by the UN’s recently formed Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, a group led by Dr. James Cockayne, director of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University. “Leaders in the field” of financial services also participate on the Commission.

In a recent interview with, Dr. Cockayne noted that a growing group of financial players have taken an interest in finding and stopping illicit operations that support modern slavery.

“Over the last couple of years, one of the key game changers that has emerged is the engagement of the financial sector, both public and private,” he explained. “They made quite clear that what they thought was needed is a roadmap for more systemic and sustained engagement by the financial sector with these issues.”

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