Tech Gets Enlisted In The War Against Human Trafficking
By SHEILA RILEY, FOR INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY Posted 12/03/2010 04:38 PM ET
The fight against human trafficking is using a few new weapons: texting, iPhone apps and smarter passports.
An estimated 12.3 million adults and children around the world are trafficked — compelled in a variety of ways to work against their will — the U.S. State Department says.
“It’s basically modern-day slavery,” said Mark Latonero, research director for the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center. “It’s a pernicious and widespread global problem.”
The term “trafficking” covers a wide area.
“It’s not just forced prostitution, it’s also forced labor — people working in slaverylike conditions on farms, fishing boats, in nail salons, whatever,” Latonero said.
He’s working on a project to make it easier to get help for trafficking victims via cell phone.
The Technology and Trafficking in Persons Research Initiative will allow concerned citizens, potential trafficking victims and possibly victims themselves to text information to a hotline. The project is led by the Annenberg Center.
Texts will be sorted by a computer and sent to appropriate agencies that could help, Latonero says.
The initiative focuses on the Mekong region in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, southern China and Burma.
“This part of the world is a major source, transit and destination region for men, women and children forced into labor and prostitution,” Latonero said.
Cell Phones Aplenty
The program could be in place by mid-2011 in Thailand, with government funding and philanthropic grants expected to cover the $500,000-plus launch costs.
Though residents of the region are extremely poor — which makes them vulnerable to trafficking — most have cell phones, Latonero says.
“That,” he said, “is our opportunity.”
Phones are used on another front in the fight against trafficking. An iPhone application for consumers concerned about whether forced or child labor was used to create their purchase became available last month.
The app, Free2Work, is a joint project of Not For Sale, a San Francisco anti-slavery nonprofit, and the International Labor Rights Forum, a nonprofit advocacy organization for workers. Juniper Networks (JNPR) funded the development of the application, which is free.
With the app, shoppers can access information about the labor practices of some 60 companies, including Nike (NKE), Hasbro (HAS), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Apple (AAPL). It rates the companies’ labor practices. Not For Sale compiles information from company Web sites and public databases to create its corporate ratings.
“It’s when people are shopping that they really need that information,” said Dave Batsone, president of Not For Sale.
(See original Investor’s Business Daily Article here).