Winter Talk with Ruth Dearnley

posted 24 Feb 2021 4 mins

STOP THE TRAFFIK: Fantasy or Fact?

It was a privilege to welcome Ruth Dearnley, founder and CEO of STOP THE TRAFFIK, as speaker at our online event on 24th February. Ruth’s pioneering, data-led approach has, in the last 15 years, empowered communities across the world to take action on people trafficking.

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime. Ruth estimates some 40.3 million people are currently being exploited, representing criminal profits of £240 billion worldwide, but recognises this may not be the full picture: ‘One of the problems with trafficking is that you can only count what you can see,’ she pointed out, ‘This is a global organisation, driven by business, and the size and professionalism of the networks that generate this incredible profit can never be underestimated.’

STOP THE TRAFFIK combines grassroots activism with the power of technology to identify and disrupt trafficking and modern slavery:

‘There is an essential need, when someone’s being exploited, to rescue them, to remove them from the situation and take them along the journey of rehabilitation. But rescue is not STOP THE TRAFFIK’s call. Our aim is to prevent and frustrate the traffickers. As Desmond Tutu says, “We need to stop pulling people out of the river and go upstream and stop them jumping in.” And that can only be done with accurate, democratised information. You look at the roots of trafficking and the current hotspots, you overlay that with data on supply chains and climate and migration trends, you listen to survivors’ stories, then you start to make predictions. Because you can only prevent what you can predict.’

Once collated, intelligence gleaned from this global information-gathering exercise is disseminated at every level of society: ‘Our data needs to be communicated to all actors who can do something with it –  from bankers and businesses to faith groups and the 13-and-14-year-olds who have more influence on their own peer group than anyone else. Everyone has their part to play, and that’s what technology and data make possible: it enables us to network globally and act locally.’

Legislative cogs are starting to turn: ‘In 2015 we were part of pushing and shaping the supply-chain amendments in the UN’s Modern Slavery Act. There is legal change going on. Just recently two young children successfully made the claim that they were being treated as criminals when they were actually victims.’

Closer to home, STOP THE TRAFFIK has worked with Lithuanian migrant workers in the East of England and Latin American cleaners in London. ‘You have to remember that trafficking is often the best offer these vulnerable people have ever had. They’ve been sold a dream – education, travel, a job. So we need to enable them to understand their choices, to ask the questions that will help them understand what is truth and what is lies.

Every human trafficking story, current or historic, is part of the big picture and the STOP APP, set up by STOP THE TRAFFIK, allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to report suspicious activity:

‘If you see something that just doesn’t feel right, you can entrust it, anonymously, into the big data,’ explained Ruth. ‘It may just be that missing piece of the puzzle.’

Ruth’s talk, hosted by Alexander Hoare and Rennie Hoare and enlivened by many interesting questions from our guests, closed on a cautiously hopeful note:

‘It saddens me that with all the people who are doing extraordinary work and fighting traffic all around the world, we are not winning: people are still being bought and sold. But we’re shining a light, making it harder for traffickers to hide. And that light is getting stronger.’