IBM hub to become powerful tool in fight against trafficking

Team at Dublin software lab worked with UK-based Stop the Traffik on the project

Tech giant IBM is joining the fight against human trafficking as part of a project designed and developed at its software lab in Dublin.

The Irish team worked with UK-based organisation Stop the Traffik on the project, developing artificial intelligence technology that will identify trafficking hotspots. The Traffik Analysis Hub is a secure cloud-based collaborative environment that allows financial institutions, non-government organisations and law enforcement to share data and expertise, helping to predict and disrupt trafficking and slave labour.

"We firmly believe that whilst justice process is arresting and prosecuting traffickers is important and whilst was rescuing the people that are in slavery and finding a rehabilitation program for them is also really important," said Neil Giles, director of Stop the Traffik UK. "Neither of those two things actually make a difference to the trade. They just create vacancies for new traffic victims to be recruited. Trafficking essentially is a business in its own right. It's a major global economy."

‘Unfriendly atmosphere’

One solution is creating what Mr Giles describes as “an unfriendly atmosphere” for the growth of human trafficking, a role filled by the new hub.


The hub can be used to pinpoint hotspots for trafficking, using data gleaned from several sources such as NGO reports, social media and news articles, and analysed by the system. Using this data, the IBM technology can help identify areas where trafficking is likely to have occurred.

“Trafficking is not just about sex work . It’s probably 65 per cent forced labour. We need financial institutions, civil society and we need law enforcement to band together to better understand the problem and therefore be able to use their resources much more effectively to bear down on the problem ,” Mr Giles said.

The project is the culmination more than two years of work for the IBM team, from the initial collaboration proposal to readying the hub for launch. The IBM team in Dublin has trained the AI technology and programmed the hub in conjunction with its consortium members, tagging and categorising more than 100,000 rows of meta data.

"Once we've pulled all the NGO data sets together, it gives a view that financial institutions law enforcement don't have and have never had before," said John McGrath, IBM's senior solution architect and leader for IBM "TechForGood" team in Dublin. "We have people like Interpol and Europol actively involved here who want to take this to an extra level."

Another angle

Teamed with data from local financial institutions, the hub could tackle trafficking from another angle and help financial institutions identify problems coming down the line by identifying patterns for problematic transactions. “Those patterns can become fingerprints that we can look for,” Mr McGrath said. “And this could become an early warning system that says we’re seeing something develop in the pattern of the transactions.”

The hub went live on Wednesday at an event in the US. The plan for the hub is to become a powerful tool in fighting trafficking, rolling it out to other institutions that want to contribute to the project.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist