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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Lawyers, banks, and NGOs join forces to fight human trafficking

Lawyers, banks, and NGOs join forces to fight human trafficking


Thomson Reuters Foundation launches new toolkit to scrutinise financial data

Herbert Smith Freehills has advised on the development of a new toolkit to help European banks fight human trafficking using financial data.

The toolkit is the product of the European Bankers Alliance, a multi-stakeholder working group, established in 2015 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as well as Barclays, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, and Santander, among others.

The alliance also includes expert anti-trafficking group STOP THE TRAFFIK, Europol, and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner and National Crime Agency.

A team of 11 HSF lawyers were involved in the toolkit’s development. Partner Dan Hudson said: ‘With human rights issues entering the mainstream and in the face of growing public scrutiny, companies need to embed a respect for human rights in all of their activities.

‘Financial institutions have a key role to play in identifying activity related to the trafficking and exploitation of men, women, and children. We hope the toolkit will encourage businesses to think about what they can and should be doing to tackle the issue, given their access to the data that can bring traffickers to justice.’

The toolkit includes red flag indicators tailored specifically to European banks, together with case studies and resources to help detect and report suspicious patterns in financial activity linked to human trafficking.

Statistics derived from the UK’s National Referral Mechanism indicate that in 2014, 2,340 potential victims from 96 countries were referred to it. However, the extent of human trafficking in the UK is likely to be far greater than these statistics suggest, with the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Strategy estimating five times that number.

Anti-slavery NGO Walk Free estimates that around 46 million people are trapped in modern slavery worldwide and, according to the International Labour Office, slavery generates illegal profits of $150bn a year.

‘Modern-day slavery is a growing business,’ said Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa. ‘The refugee crisis and the free movement of people across European borders have created a unique opportunity for traffickers to prey on vulnerable people.

‘It is good to see financial institutions taking the lead in the fight against this global crime. They have a crucial role to play. They have access to financial data that can lead to the traffickers and provide crucial evidence needed to prosecute those responsible for this most shameful crime.’

Neil Giles, director of STOP THE TRAFFIK, commented: ‘The trafficking of people is a business and it’s about money; a lot of people globally are very wealthy because of slavery and exploitation. The fact that the financial institutions within the European Bankers Alliance are prepared to be proactive is a very positive forward step.

‘It is only through collaboration that we will generate the systemic disruption required to bear down on modern slavery and undermine the markets in which people are bought and sold.’

Earlier this year, the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit launched its own for-profit law firm, Saltworks, to support victims of modern slavery.

The ATLEU has called on the government to tender a legal aid contract for trafficking compensation claims, so victims can access legal advice throughout the UK, improve the decision-making process for approving legal aid for compensation claims, and provide legal aid for trafficking victims to access the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD