A painting by Johann Moritz Rugendas depicts life below deck of a slave ship headed to Brazil. Rugendas was an eyewitness to the scene. Picture: Wikipedia
New York - Banks could revolutionise the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery by reporting suspicious transactions and other financial activity that ring alarm bells, according to a report by the Royal United Services Institute on Wednesday.

It said financial institutions held data on traffickers and their victims that could play a vital role in combating trafficking - as long as they also collaborated with groups working to stop the trade and supporting survivors.

The report was launched at an event in London opened by Britain’s interior minister Amber Rudd, who announced £6million (R94.3m) 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. UK government figures estimate between 10000 and 13000 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.

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They outlined the crucial role that financial institutions could play, as long as there was collaboration with anti-trafficking charity groups working with police.

Nigel Kirby of the UK’s National Crime Agency said 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 it and how it’s being financed. I find that impressive,” said Kirby.

The panel discussed how the financial sector could shine a light on trafficking networks by flagging suspicious transactions, analysing large amounts of data in new ways and undertaking database investigations.

Banks could help police identify and prosecute trafficking cases by providing proof of payments and financial patterns.

And on the ground, banks had thousands of staff members who could 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 human trafficking.