“Trafficking Thrives in a Data Vacuum” IOM Tells Expert Panel in Vienna


Vienna – Technology and trafficking were on the agenda at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna this week during the 19th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference in Vienna.  

IOM’s Vienna Regional Office participated as a speaker at a side event under the auspices of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the OSCE and the UNODC, addressing the influence of digital technologies on trafficking in persons, especially child trafficking.  

Sacha Chan Kam, IOM Senior Regional Migration Protection and Assistance Specialist outlined how the influence of technology had changed the modus operandi of traffickers in recent years.  

“Traffickers have become more sophisticated in their use of technology as a tool for recruiting and exploiting victims. Children are particularly vulnerable as eager consumers of all the latest technology that lets them connect and communicate with their friends,” said Chan Kam. “While technology opens amazing opportunities for youth all over the world, it also enables traffickers to more easily target those who are active online.”  

“The very same technologies that many of us use on a daily basis are thus being co-opted for the purposes of exploitation,” Chan Kam explained. 

There is an upside to the technology/trafficking nexus, he noted, with new technology playing a significant role in addressing data gaps, particularly in the context of law enforcement and services for victims. Technology also can improve data visibility and increase the efficiency of data flows, leading to more effective use of resources and coordination between business, government and civil society. 

“Hundreds of relevant and rich datasets, including administrative data, have not so far been made publicly available, thus limiting their use,” he continued. “Modern technology is allowing us to overcome these obstacles and make data accessible to through sophisticated anonymization, data protection, and data sharing techniques.” 

Chan Kam pointed to two current initiatives which aimed to fill the data vacuum. IOM, in partnership with the NGO Polaris, launched the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative in November 2017. That partnership is the first global data hub on human trafficking, with data contributed by counter-trafficking organizations worldwide. The network now has primary, de-identified data on nearly 90,000 victims of human trafficking, from 170 nationalities exploited in 170 countries.  

These data are from cases assisted by IOM, the US human trafficking hotline operated by Polaris, and Liberty Asia’s NGO partners.  

In addition, IOM is also making use of its proprietary Displacement Tracking Matrix to identify potential and actual risks of trafficking in several countries and to respond to the needs of both identified victims and at-risk populations, especially children. 

“Trafficking is an organized crime that necessitates an organized response,” Chan Kam concluded. “We have to strengthen our partnerships in the fight against trafficking, or we risk duplicating efforts, ignoring significant gaps, and missing opportunities to leverage our comparative strengths in pursuit of our common goal of combating human trafficking and protecting vulnerable migrants.” 

A panel discussion organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Transnational Threats Department brought together representatives of ODIHR, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Children’s Rights, the Spanish National Police, Western Union, Thorn, a non-profit group working to combat child trafficking, and a trafficking survivor leader. 

“Technology has played a pivotal role in providing easy access to traffickers for the recruitment and exploitation of victims of trafficking. At the same time, today we clearly see that technology can be effectively utilized to identify victims of trafficking and gather evidence to convict traffickers,” said Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, ODIHR Director during the discussion. “All OSCE participating States should both promote and prioritize the use of technology to combat the trafficking of human beings.” 

Speakers and participants highlighted that only a small fraction of the estimated 40 million victims of trafficking in human beings have currently been identified. As technology and globalization increasingly connect the world, traffickers’ ability to recruit and exploit their victims, especially children, has also exponentially increased and moved online.  

For more information please contact Joe Lowry at IOM’s Regional Office in Vienna, Tel: +43660 3776404, Email jlowry@iom.int