Banks could revolutionize the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery by reporting suspicious transactions and other financial activity that ring alarm bells, according to a report on Wednesday.
Financial institutions hold data on traffickers and their victims that could play a vital role in combating trafficking — as long as they also collaborate with groups working to stop the trade and supporting survivors, the report said.
The report by Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was launched at an event in London opened by Britain's interior minister, Amber Rudd, who announced 6 million pounds ($7.4 million) of aid money to tackle modern slavery around the world.
"This barbaric crime affects every country and this funding will protect those who risk being trafficked to our shores or who suffer intolerable cruelty to make the products we buy," said Rudd.
Nearly 46 million people globally are living as slaves, forced to work in factories, mines and farms, sold for sex, trapped in debt bondage or born into servitude, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation.
U.K. government figures estimate between 10,000 and 13,000 people are living as slaves in Britain.
Speakers from law enforcement and banking said the world had moral, legal and commercial motivations to tackle trafficking. They outlined the crucial role that financial institutions could play, as long as there was cross-sector collaboration, with anti-trafficking charities groups working with police.
Nigel Kirby of the U.K.'s National Crime Agency explained police had been stuck on an investigation into a suspected sex trafficking website, until one bank provided a "golden nugget" of information.
"They now know exactly who is behind that, how they're running and how it's being financed. I find that really impressive," said Kirby.
The panel discussed how the financial sector can shine a light on trafficking networks by flagging suspicious transactions, analyzing large amounts of data in new ways and undertaking database investigations.
Banks can help police identify and prosecute trafficking cases by providing proof of payments and financial patterns.
And on the ground, banks have thousands of staff members who can be trained to look out for possible cases of trafficking.
Rob Wainwright, director of Europe's police agency, Europol, said after a slow start, global banks were engaged in fighting trafficking in ways never seen before.