Blockchain has come a long way from being just the underlying technology of Bitcoin. Owing to the plethora of use cases that it has to offer, it is being embraced by industries across the board, from finance to aviation to even retail. However, blockchain isn’t limited to profit generating businesses, it can be utilized for humanitarian purposes just as well.
This was the topic of discussion at a recent conference in Vienna, Austria.The conference was hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Princess Eugenie of the United Kingdom and Anti-human Trafficking Ambassador John Richmond of the United States, spoke in favor of the new technology to address the problem of human trafficking.
The granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth and the founder of the Anti-Slavery Collective, believes that modern problems require modern solutions. She said:
I have learned about how blockchain is having a huge impact on supply chain management, and how an app in Britain can help the public report modern slavery at car washes.
According to Reuters, experts have noted that increased internet usage has expanded the ability of traffickers to exploit potential targets. This is alarmingly true because with every picture we post and every check-in we make, we put personal information out in the world that can very well be used by just about anyone. At least four billion people were online in 2018 up from 2.5 billion in 2012, which means more potential victims.
From recruiting and advertising on social media platforms to controlling victims through their mobile devices and even laundering money using cryptocurrencies, modern technology has transformed the business of trafficking, experts pointed out during the conference.
Why the Faith in the Infant Technology?
The Princess has precedent to believe that the technology can actually help in frightening menaces like modern day slavery and human trafficking. In March last year, the beverages giant Coca-Cola teamed up with the U.S. State Department along with two other companies in order to develop a project that uses blockchain technology to create a secure registry of workers worldwide.
According to the International Labor Organization, nearly 25 million people work in forced-labor conditions worldwide and this project aims to tackle that problem. Reportedly the new venture will create a secure registry for workers and their contracts using blockchain’s validation and digital notary capabilities.
Furthermore, there is another project where artificial intelligence (AI) uses blockchain to help find victims of sex trafficking. Identifying signs of human trafficking in online sex adverts is an arduous task even for the police officials. But a new tool developed by Dr. Rebecca Portnoff of University of California, Berkley automates this task by combining two advanced technologies.
Portnoff’s tool identifies the author of online sex ads by looking at the style in which ads are written. AI trained on thousands of different adverts highlights the ones with similar styles and forms a list of likely candidates.
The second step involves the payment method. Since credit card companies stopped the use of their services on Backpage back in 2015, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are left as the only method of payment. As by default every transaction is logged in the blockchain, this helps the AI tool to search the blockchain in order to identify the wallet that links to each ad.
In addition to these projects, some countries are looking into the blockchain in order to fight the menace of trafficking, Moldova, known as Europe’s poorest country, being one of them. According to the report, children living in rural areas are particularly at risk of trafficking as they often hold no identification, something that makes them invisible to authorities and easier for traffickers to smuggle across borders on fake documents. The blockchain technology could be used to give such children paperless identification documents based on biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial scans, which would be impossible to fake.
So Princess Eugenie’s faith in blockchain technology is backed by solid proof.
How Can Blockchain Help in this Endeavor?
There are several ways to effectively use the blockchain to protect labor workers:
Middlemen and traffickers both routinely confiscate passports, identity cards and other important documents from migrant workers, thus leaving them imprisoned. Blockchain links a unique data identifier to any person, making that individual visible and traceable.
Posting a worker’s contract on blockchain automatically creates transparency regarding work schedule, wage and job requirements. This way individuals can avoid job scams that could put them in debt bondage.
Due to blockchain’s ability to hold unalterable records, stakeholders can rest assured that workers are being paid the right amount at the right time by having access to records of digital cash payments or of the transfers into digital wallets.
However no technology, not even blockchain can work like magic to solve these problems, it can only be the catalyst. As Richmond noted:
There is not an algorithm or app that is going to stop human trafficking. But there are tech tools that can help people to do their job better. This is the slow, grinding, day-in, day-out work that can help make a difference.