New Approaches for Tackling Modern-Day Slavery
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Politics and Activism

New Approaches for Tackling Modern-Day Slavery

New tech projects aim to root out forms of child labor and forced labor.

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New Approaches for Tackling Modern-Day Slavery
The Drum

In May 2017, the University of Nottingham launched its "Slavery from Space” project, which has been identifying and marking brick kilns from hundreds of satellite images and monitoring their activity in real-time. With a particular emphasis on child labor practices in India, this project hopes to collaborate with local authorities and human rights organizations to root out sites where modern-day slavery is taking place and ultimately help end slavery by 2030.

These geospatial techniques are integral to the work of NGOs that are now able to collect data remotely as opposed to sending antislavery workers on the ground to find these sites, which are often times in remote or conflict-stricken areas.

The sheer volume of satellite images produced has made the project turn to recruiting volunteers to help researchers mark the kilns. This has not only fastened the process of collecting locations for potential investigation for law enforcement officials, but it has also raised greater awareness of this growing human rights crisis. Researchers have found that 68% of brick workers in South Asia are victims of forced labor and nearly 20% of them are child laborers.

Slavery is a stain on nearly every industry, with many of those products being distributed and sold in the United States. It is so rampant in our supply chains that the US Department of Labor has articulated all the items produced by child labor and forced labor abroad, which are then sold and consumed domestically.

Technology Developer Padmini Ranganathan of SAP Ariba – which helps companies further their procurement processes - is hoping that artificial intelligence (AI) will be the solution to ensuring workers’ rights and making slave-free supply chains.

The AI program Ranganathan and her team developed is similar to risk analysis, using data points from a host of sources to flag possible forced labor violations for companies. The technology, set to launch later this year in collaboration with Made in a Free World, will use data from surveillance cameras, non-profits, independent auditors inspecting sites periodically, and workers themselves, through anonymous hotlines. For example, the program could help identify if child labor was used on cocoa plantations which was then used to produce candy-bars.

While Ranganathan acknowledged that tracking any supply chain to its initial root is difficult, she explained how techniques are being tested that could potentially provide, as a part of the contract, lower level suppliers with mobile apps and make use of surveillance cameras and hotlines in factories and larger sites.

At a time in which modern-day slavery is on the rise, exploiting more than 45 million individuals globally, these tech initiatives aimed to help root out slavery come at a much-needed time. I hope that as these projects and programs are implemented, the instruments and materials meant to do good are not themselves produced by the very injustice which they intend to end.

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