A high proportion of modern slavery victims in Britain are from south Asia.
A fearful customer, a flurry of late-night transactions or suspicious financial documents; for bank staff these could all be giveaway signs of the booming global trade in humans.
Bank employees will now be trained to spot and report signs of human trafficking using a practical toolkit – including “red-flag indicators” and case studies – launched by the European Bankers Alliance and the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday (2).
The toolkit will be shared confidentially across the alliance, which was established in 2015 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and includes Barclays, HSBC, Western Union, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Santander, UBS and Commerzbank.
Nick Lewis, head of intelligence and investigations at Standard Chartered, said all employees would receive training based on the kit to fight the “vile and inhumane crimes” of human trafficking and modern slavery.
“Fighting human trafficking is already a priority for us, but saying that is not the same as giving our staff the skills they need to actually be able to identify it when they encounter it,” said Lewis.
The initiative also involves non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and law enforcement agencies in a joint response to rising concerns about the growth of trafficking rings operating across Europe.
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.
In Britain, an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 people are living as slaves, according to government figures.
Through access to huge amounts of traffickers’ financial data and face-to-face contact with possible victims, banks are in a unique position to find information to identify and disrupt trafficking and help law enforcement agencies prosecute the crime.
Activities covered in the kit include customer spending, flows of money in and out of global accounts as well as suspicious behaviour observed in bank branches.
Lewis said Standard Chartered staff would be trained to spot victims in branches who appear threatened or under the control of traffickers, and would then know what to do.
He said that in certain cases, employees could also ask a customer if they are okay. “This opens up a whole new domain of engagement and identification of trafficking victims … and a whole new potential avenue for victims to say ‘I’m not okay’,” he added.
But he said staff would not interrogate customers and would only act when particular circumstances arouse suspicion.
Lewis said that collaborating with other partners and a greater understanding of how money moves in source, transit and destination countries was also vital.