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Together with ABN Amro bank and the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, Jill Coster van Voorhout (ACIL & Criminal Law) initiated a search engine to detect human trafficking on the basis of bank data. The search engine was launched at an event at Amsterdam Law School.

Informatiebijeenkomst mensenhandel 5-4-2019

In order to gain broad support for the initiative, participants in the event included representatives from all major Dutch banks as well as various investigation and enforcement services and municipalities.

"There has been academic consensus for decades already that neither the public nor the private sector can combat or prevent human trafficking on its own. Yet no one has entered into a public-private partnership aimed at effectively combatting trafficking in human beings. We basically launched this innovative research project to see if such a collaborative effort could succeed, which now appears to be the case," says Jill Coster van Voorhout.

Exploitation leaves tell-tale financial traces

Labour exploitation is quite difficult to detect. Its victims are often here illegally and do not speak Dutch. Because human trafficking is predicated on exploitation, it often leaves tell-tale financial traces. This is why an essential element of the solution to the problem can be sought in the financial system, i.e. follow the money. The data available in the banking system is far from being fully utilised, which is why the UvA, ABN AMRO and Inspectorate SZW have developed a search engine comprising 25 indicators to detect human trafficking on the basis of bank data. Other banks, investigation and enforcement agencies and municipalities can now also make queries using this search tool.

Detecting human trafficking around the globe

Jeroen Hermens, an investigator at SZW: "We now see a theoretical notion becoming reality simply by virtue of action. Ideally, I would like to see the initiative expand even further; all financial institutions and all sorts of investigative services could participate on a global scale. So much of the information available in the financial system is being inadequately utilised in the fight against crime." Jill Coster van Voorhout adds: "We have thus far been unable to find any comparable initiative elsewhere in the world; it would seem that the Netherlands is at the forefront in this regard. We need to broaden and deepen the knowledge thus far acquired to the greatest extent possible. A lot of interesting research remains to be done!"

Time for the next step

ABN AMRO sees it as its responsibility to take part in the initiative. Rob van 't Oever, Compliance Manager - Head of Intelligence Centre SIM at ABN AMRO, remarked that those present - fortunately - also see a window of opportunity. "The time has come to take the next steps.” Maria Anne Van Dijk, Global Head of Environmental Social & Ethical Risk & Policy at ABN AMRO: "You'll notice that this is an idea that resonates and also that the attendees are eager to participate. Dream big, act small; in short, keep things small-scale and practical! The indicators of human trafficking thus far detected by analysing banking data show that we are on the right track. An organisation will need to have the in-house expertise to be able to interpret the data, assess its value."

From polarisation to joint action

If investigation services and banks cooperate more closely, exploitation can be detected more quickly. Steef de Vries, an adviser at the Inspectorate SZW: "There is a certain amount of polarisation in peoples’ working methods, with everyone focused on their own professional discipline. But if you work on the basis of common interests - once you have managed to define them - great things can be achieved by working together. I would like to see us all working together - with a high level of integrity and from a social perspective. All of us have an interest in a safe society and we all bear responsibility for it. If we can manage to achieve that ambition, great strides can be made."