Africa: A Simple Debit Card Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, UN Banking Group Says

New York — Globally, more than 40 million people are estimated to be enslaved, from those in forced labor to victims of sex trafficked or forced marriage, according to the International Labour Organization

Dozens of banks have signed up to a U.N. program to offer trafficking survivors accounts and debit cards, organizers said on Friday, providing tools they may lack if their captors stole their financial identity or ruined their credit.

The banking coalition, launched during the annual General Assembly meeting of the United Nations this week, includes a dozen leading banks in Austria, Canada, Great Britain and the United States.

It aims to help survivors who find traffickers hijacked their financial identity for money laundering or other crimes and spoiled their credit record.

"Having access to legitimate financial services is something many people take for granted," said Sara Crowe, director of data analysis at the U.S.-based anti-trafficking group Polaris, in a statement.

"For too long, survivors of trafficking have faced challenges like having to cash checks at places that deduct large fees because they can't get a basic checking or savings account."

The scheme is among a number of projects proposed by the Liechtenstein Initiative, a year-long effort to harness the might of the global financial industry in the effort to battle human trafficking.

Tougher fiscal investigations, more coordinated freezing of criminal assets and expanded digital payrolls all could be harnessed to help shut down the $150 billion-a-year illicit trafficking industry, a report by the Initiative said.

Globally, more than 40 million people are estimated to be enslaved, from those in forced labor to victims of sex trafficked or forced marriage, according to the International Labour Organization.

"While states have formally abolished slavery, informally our financial and economic system continues to tolerate and even promote practices that generate similar results," the report said.

"Modern slavery and human trafficking thus represent a tragic market failure."

The concept of offering survivors banking services was pioneered in Britain by HSBC, which has opened 217 such accounts since June, a spokeswoman said.

- Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Claire Cozens

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