States are urged to make full use of technological capabilities to respond to human trafficking

Migrants represent a significant proportion of identified victims of human trafficking worldwide, accounting for 65% of identified victims in Western and Southern Europe, 60% in the Middle East, 55% in East Asia and the Pacific, 50% in Central and Southeast Europe, and 25% in North America. Recently, the Internet has been increasingly used to advertise fake jobs and to recruit and exploit these victims.

On the 2022 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, celebrated under the theme ‘use and abuse of technology’, the UN Migration Network calls on countries to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by technology to strengthen the response to human trafficking people while ensuring respect, protection and respect for the human rights of all migrants.

Since COVID-19, traffickers have increasingly adapted their business models to take advantage of new opportunities offered by advances in technology to perpetuate human rights violations for profit. By transferring the recruitment, control and exploitation of migrants to online platforms and tools, traffickers reduce the likelihood of detection and ensure greater profitability. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and widened the vulnerability of many due to the rapid use of technology in everyday life, including among children and adolescents who are particularly at risk as they spend more unsupervised time online. Interventions promoting online safety are therefore critical.

Under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Legal Migration, states commit to take measures to prevent, combat and eradicate trafficking in persons in the context of international migration, including in particular strengthening capacity to investigate, prosecute and sanction trafficking of people. Technology can facilitate the detection of crimes committed online and offline; and improving human rights protection as it can be used to monitor, record, store, analyze and facilitate the exchange of information on human trafficking. However, such actions must always be implemented in a manner that protects human rights, including implementing human rights due diligence measures and complying with data protection, privacy and freedom of expression standards, as well as taking into account the human rights impact that actions may have on the rights of migrants and victims. The UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons reveals that traffickers use Internet platforms without physical or geographic boundaries to: advertise exploitative services disguised as legitimate activities, contact large numbers of potential victims, and exploit victims worldwide.

Cross-border trafficking facilitated by technology requires fewer human resources and easily connects perpetrators, including for example recruiters and enforcers in countries of origin, transit and destination, allowing exploitation of victims to take place at any time. In this context, Internet technologies such as online banking and blockchain technologies, including cryptocurrencies, can also increase the risks of illicit international money transfers.

In situations of human trafficking for forced labour, sexual exploitation and slavery, migrant workers are sometimes recruited through fraudulent job advertisements posted on fake websites or through fake advertisements on legitimate job portals, job application and social networking websites, only to end up in exploitative situations.

Against this background, the UN Migration Network calls on countries to:

Expand efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate technologically facilitated human trafficking

Incorporating a human rights-based, gender-sensitive and child-sensitive perspective into developing strategies to address the nexus between technology and human trafficking

Strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies to conduct effective investigations and operations in cyberspace, ensuring that any use of technology complies with human rights law and standards

Use firewall measures between national human trafficking response efforts and those of immigration authorities to provide the necessary protection to migrants in vulnerable situations while enforcing the principle of non-punishment for victims of trafficking

Support victims and persons at risk by allocating appropriate resources to strengthen protection systems, including specialized services for children in coordination with national law enforcement authorities

Systematically involve victims and those at risk, including children and youth, in the development of technological solutions to address human trafficking

Engaging communities and at-risk groups and their networks, including parents and teachers, through initiatives to prevent human trafficking

Amend or introduce national legislation to address technologically facilitated human trafficking in accordance with international human rights law

Partner with other stakeholders, including the private sector, academia, employers, workers’ organizations and civil society to identify and anchor human trafficking responses in the potential presented by technology

Engaging with relevant technology companies to address the potential use of traffic technologies, including by implementing appropriate due diligence processes in the design and manufacture of new technologies

Improving data collection and research and regulatory responses on the misuse of ICTs to enable human trafficking, in particular the misuse of social networks

Ensure data protection standards are met and regularly assess the ethical and rights implications of using technological solutions to counter human trafficking

Use technology and innovative tools to improve international cooperation in addressing cases of human trafficking, in accordance with international law, while ensuring victims’ rights, including access to justice and full reparation

Enhancing existing state-facilitated digital technology platforms for the recruitment, placement and/or placement of migrant workers

Improve digital literacy and ensure that workers and employers have access to legitimate digital platforms for recruitment and placement

Future success in effectively addressing human trafficking in the context of international migration requires an informed, engaged, practical and rights-compliant use of technology to keep up with the new and evolving way traffickers operate, including in providing support, assistance and protection of victims. The same Internet technologies that traffickers abuse can be used to minimize the risk of people becoming victims of human trafficking online. It’s time to reclaim digital spaces to counter human trafficking and protect its victims.

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