To raise awareness around the role of technology both as an enabler and impeder of human trafficking, Napier’s Head of APAC, Robin Lee, sat down with Dr Andrew Catford, Global CEO of Hagar International, to talk about the problem.
Hagar is an international NGO (non-governmental organisation) with 28 years of experience in healing communities from the trauma of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and abuse, and empowering their future.
Below, you can watch a snippet from their conversation to understand more about what Hagar International does, or read a summary of the main points below.
How does Hagar international combat human trafficking?
Robin: Tell us a little more about Hagar International, Andrew.
Andrew: Human trafficking is one of the global development problems of our time. Sadly, it’s a business, and a business linked to poverty.
Some 70% of trafficked people are from Asia, and most are women and children. Hagar began following the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and, since then, we’ve expanded our work to encompass six countries - Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, Afghanistan, and most recently the Solomon Islands.
Last year alone we worked with 664,000 survivors. It sounds a lot until you realise that worldwide, there are an estimated 28 million people who are trafficked.
“Last year alone we worked with 664,000 survivors. It sounds a lot until you realise that worldwide, there are an estimated 28 million people who are trafficked.” - Dr Andrew Catford, Global CEO of Hagar International
Robin: I’d love to understand what a day in the life of someone working for Hagar looks like.
Andrew: We have about 200 staff, most of them in the field. There are several strands to our work. We help survivors heal, and our expertise means that we are well placed to educate the vulnerable, reducing the risk of them being trafficked. We also work with and train our partners - police and local agencies, for example - to amplify what we’re able to do. And finally, we empower those survivors who want to become anti trafficking ambassadors to speak out and to help bring perpetrators to justice.
What is the scale of the global human trafficking problem?
Robin: What are the recent trends in this terrible business?
Andrew: Covid has had both a positive and a negative impact. The increased surveillance we saw over the course of the pandemic enabled the authorities to identify groups who had been trafficked such as in China and Myanmar.
Conversely, the economic pressures brought on by Covid means that overall, human trafficking is on the increase. Migration schemes attract people living in poverty or subjected to gender-based violence, but they’re often covers for trafficking operations. People leaving their homes for a better life can end up in forced labour schemes in fishing or prostitution.
Whenever there is a shock, be it a conflict or a global pandemic, trafficking levels go up.
Now of course the traffickers have moved online. At least 50% of people trafficked are groomed online.
How charities and law enforcement agencies collaborate to combat trafficking
Robin: Tell me a little more about your collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
Andrew: They’re a key referrer for us and, for many survivors, an important part of their healing is securing a conviction against the person who trafficked them.
We also work to educate police, especially border police, in taking preventative action when suspicious trafficking may be taking place. We work together to educate local communities about how to recognise and avoid trafficking operations.
Robin: What are the major challenges to your rescue operations?
Andrew: Rescue missions is not the big focus as we often receive referred cases directly. The scale of the problem, coupled with our limited resources, is the biggest problem, and means we have to make really tough decisions about who we can help.
Police forces also don’t have the skills or the technology to operate effective surveillance operations, leaving a gap which NGOs with investigative skills fill.
Thirdly, the court processes to bring perpetrators to justice are difficult and lengthy.
The future for anti-human trafficking
Robin: Your website features stories of hope. Is there more you hope Hagar International can do?
Andrew: We hope to be more effective in our prevention programmes each year and help reduce the overall numbers of trafficking cases.
There’s a growing awareness that this is a current issue, and we’re seeing corporates, law firms, individuals and bilateral government agencies come together to help us free the 28 million people in the world today who are being trafficked.
We must put the issue of human trafficking firmly where it belongs: in the history books.
Robin: Are there any personal stories you can share?
Andrew: I was recently in north Vietnam, where indigenous groups still live in a very traditional way. The combination of low levels of education, high levels of poverty and gender based, alcohol-driven violence, makes these groups especially vulnerable.
I met one woman who was groomed online and trafficked to China where she was forced into an arranged marriage and physical abuse. Hagar has worked with her to resettle her into her original community and give her some strategies to be able to support herself, as well as collaborated with the local police on preventative strategies to shut down the traffickers operating in this region.
Robin: How does the theme of UNODC’s ‘World Day Against Trafficking in Persons’ this year resonate with you?
Andrew: Hugely. We’re working with communities and the police to highlight the dangers of social media grooming operations and partnering with rescue organisations to identify traffickers operating online.
Robin: This is such a personal issue for us at Napier, especially for those of us living and working in Asia. How can individuals and corporations get involved in the fight?
Andrew: Everyone can get involved. From becoming a corporate giving beneficiary, to offering pro bono professional services or volunteer help, or simply sharing information and raising awareness of this hidden problem.
Anyone who wants to find out how they can contribute can get in touch with us on our website at https://hagarinternational.org/
Robin: Thank you so much for your time, Andrew.
Combat human trafficking by clamping down on financial crime
The anti-financial crime community works hard to combat predicate crimes, such as human trafficking, and detect criminals as they attempt to legitimise their profits through the financial system.
Using modern technology and sharing intelligence between standard setters, law enforcement, and regulated institutions can help pinpoint the means with which traffickers disguise their funds and lead to higher rates of apprehension and prosecution of traffickers.