2017 Trust Conference: Deeds of Darkness, Rules of Law and Light

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Government, Thomson Reuters, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

Trust Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The impact of technology on seeking solutions to the tragedy of human trafficking and how best to urge corporations to ensure their supply chains are forced labor-free were among the topics discussed at Thomson Reuters’ recent Trust Conference by the activists, lawyers and others leading this fight.

Approximately 45.8 million slaves exist world-wide today, making our times are quite dark indeed. That is why the Trust Conference exists: to put the rule of law behind human rights and to empower people to fight against trafficking.

One of the first conference sessions was a debate on the role of technology in the fight against slavery. Security versus privacy is a much-discussed topic in the legal industry; and as it pertains to trafficking, it becomes a crucial issue as well. Two major players in the legal space — Cyrus Vance, the New York District Attorney for Manhattan; and Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch — discussed the merits and pitfalls of allowing government access via search warrants to an individual’s encrypted smartphone to gather evidence about trafficking crimes.

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Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Founder of TrustLaw speaking at the 2017 Trust Conference.

The panel debated whether or not the default device encryption in Apple’s IOS8 platform could pose a greater threat to our safety, as criminal intelligence can more easily hide behind the automatic shields of scrambling code. The audience was also encouraged to consider the crimes that might be committed, not just solved, by easier access to smartphone contents minus encryption (for example, stolen phones or physical crimes to obtain the devices).

No matter which end of the spectrum your views on privacy or security fall, these speakers each provided compelling points to support their side. Clearly, we should be talking about methods to improve security that are consistent with our privacy rights; and educating ourselves on the issues is a first step.

Next, and perhaps the day’s most compelling session, were the stories of survival. Three trafficking survivors shared their experiences with forced labour, debt bondage and the sex trade. Two of the three survivors endured these horrors right here on U.S. soil.

After sharing their stories, each survivor also spoke to ways that he public can help after someone escapes from slavery. Key to support efforts are the need for jobs, education and choices for survivors.

The survivors also demonstrated how awareness can help prevent trafficking. Civilians need training to help us identify victims, recognize red flag situations, and how to intercede with care instead of criminalizing those impacted, they said, adding that this is especially important for minors who have escaped.

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Kenneth Roth and Cyrus Vance in debate at the Thomson Reuters 2017 Trust Conference.

The Department of Justice has resources to increase awareness of human trafficking, and you can also access the websites of the survivors on the Trust Conference panel. Also, Safety First Foundation and Survivor’s Ink are both survivor-led organizations providing survivor support services and public education.

Any company or group looking to assist in prevention and support should start with the front-line and work with trafficking survivors to help. They know the challenges that await a survivor after escape, understand why a survivor might return to their captor and can aid in the education efforts from first-hand experience.

A third session focused on cleaning corporate supply chains from forced labor. Many impoverished people seek jobs outside their home countries in hopes of higher wages and a better life. By going through “recruitment companies” to obtain these jobs, they may often expose themselves to usurious recruiting fees, debt bondage trying to pay off the fees, and bait-and-switch jobs situations whose end result is slavery.

Companies need transparent supply chains so consumers can have leverage. The relationship of who buys what and from whom should not be proprietary.

Adidas, for example, has a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) system that scores their suppliers. Social justice is a KPI component. Suppliers that score well obtain more Adidas business. Adidas also publicly posts their policy on human trafficking to both hold themselves accountable and to educate their consumers.

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“Stories of Survival” Panel at the Thomson Reuters 2017 Trust Conference.

It may be impossible to guarantee a slave-free supply chain, but companies and consumers alike can conduct risk assessment prior to engaging with any company. And consumers need to ask questions and research companies concerning their factory conditions, supply chains and human rights policies. This will enable us to make educated decisions about where to place our purchase dollars, and understand that the price we see on a price tag may not include the full price exacted for a good.

Ultimately, this conference was about education. Awareness of the issues, steps we can take to prevent human trafficking, and identify and support victims — these are the take-aways of Trust Conference 2017.

It takes bravery to ponder over the deeds of darkness. But in doing so, you learn where to shine your light.


To learn more, please visit Trust Conference America, where full videos of the 2017 conference are available. You can also follow the Thomson Reuters Foundation blog on human trafficking or sign up for our newsletter.