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Inspired by the Cause: Using Technology to Fight Human Trafficking – a Pro bono Story

By January 19, 2017

Human Trafficking

By: Phil Bennett, Program Architect, Salesforce

It’s 2015 and I’m with a small group of volunteers in Kolkata, India on an expedition to tackle human trafficking. Escorted by an experienced team from, we negotiate the alleyways of Kolkata’s red light areas. These ‘cities within cities’ hide the victims of sex trafficking; children who have been stolen from their villages and sold into prostitution. I learn that tens of thousands of children are taken each year. Transported, hidden, mutilated and brutalised. Many arrive in India’s largest cities, often from neighbouring countries, and grow up in the brothel areas. I meet documentary makers, local experts and brave survivors who are attempting to reconstruct their lives. And I struggle to process what I’ve seen and to reconcile the scale of this tragedy with a world that seems to be oblivious.

Human trafficking and slavery manifests itself in different ways around the world. The nature of the crime makes it difficult to determine the number of people affected, but latest estimates are that about 46 million people around the world are living their lives in slavery. Its roots and causes are complex; steeped in social issues, poor education, war and natural disaster.

DSC00043I returned from India inspired by the fortitude of the people I met who choose to devote their lives to raise awareness of the cause, help survivors to cope and make efforts to tackle this crime. People, skills and resources from companies like Salesforce are powerful weapons against human trafficking, and I decided that I would devote my free time to helping nonprofits in this field. Volunteering and giving-back is hardwired into the Salesforce culture. Employees have seven company days each year to volunteer with nonprofit organisations.

Salesforce technology is particularly conducive to confronting human trafficking. Firstly, it’s a cloud platform which makes it favourable to short implementation times, high security, and little capital outlay. Secondly, it’s possible to build very rich functionality without code. This is vital for quickly building workflows, data models and analytics. Finally, every Salesforce customer has access to the latest functionality. Nonprofit organisations using Salesforce enjoy the same innovations as our largest enterprise customers, which is vital to keep pace with an organised crime like human trafficking.

Recently, UK’s National Modern Slavery Helpline was launched to combat trafficking and slavery in the UK. Its purpose is to provide an easy way for anyone to get help, advice or report suspected slavery in the UK. I have the privilege of volunteering with Unseen who are the UK organisation operating the helpline. We developed the Salesforce Service Cloud solution to handle the case management and referrals for the helpline. In the future, we expect the data collected to paint a picture of the UK’s slavery and trafficking activity. This will enable authorities to target resources more efficiently. It’s why we spend significant time on the data model and analytical components of the system to ensure we maximise its emergent benefits.

Modern Slavery

It’s also exciting to see how Salesforce’s new Einstein artificial intelligence technology can be brought to bear. Einstein brings predictive answers to the attention of helpline advisors, based upon previous activity. In complex cases, the advantages to this are obvious. But the potential benefits can be much greater, especially if we can begin to connect the various datasets internationally. Pattern recognition and event-driven AI from Einstein could proactively signal authorities using indicators of trafficking and slavery collected over time. International cooperation is required. Challenging topics – perhaps beyond the scope of this post – but I’m hopeful we’re heading in the right direction.

Human Trafficking - Destiny FoundationBack in India, and a girl has been rescued by authorities from sex traffickers intent on selling her into a brothel. Her life has been changed irrevocably. It’s likely she won’t be able to return to her family due to social stigmas, and without an education she risks being pulled back into the sex trade.  If she’s lucky, her path to rehabilitation will be with a caring organisation like Destiny Foundation, who work tirelessly in Kolkata to empower and support women who have been trafficked. Destiny Foundation are working with Salesforce volunteers on several projects, including developing their social enterprise, and using Salesforce to manage information about survivors in their care.

I travel again to Kolkata in a couple of months to use my volunteer time, and I look forwarding to seeing my friends again at Destiny Foundation. But I also have some trepidation. Behind the millions in the statistics are those individual stories of trauma and tragedy. Frankly, it’s difficult not to be affected. But I’ve been volunteering with Destiny Foundation for more than a year now and have never felt more determined to apply myself and try to make an impact.

Learn more about probono volunteering at Salesforce here >>