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Honouring Mo Farah on this year’s WDATIP

To mark this year’s UN World Day Against Trafficking In Persons (last month) I want to honour Sir Mo Farah’s bravery in sharing his experience of being trafficked into the UK as a young boy.

Sir Mo Farah represents the very best of what the UK has to offer. A journey through torment and adversity to becoming one our most hailed and successful athletes. For many of us, ‘Super Saturday’ in 2012 will always bring back cherished memories of the ‘Mobot’ and his 5,000m and 10,000m gold medal wins.

Sir Mo was born in Somaliland as Hussein Abdi Kahin. His father was shot when he was just four years old, during the civil war in Somalia, leaving his family “torn apart,” and eventually led to Farah being separated from his mother and brothers.

At the age of nine, Sir Mo was trafficked to the UK under the name of Mohamed Farah, by a woman he was not related to and had never met before. He was under the assumption that she was going to bring him to Europe to stay with relatives. However, upon arrival to the UK, Sir Mo was confined to a childhood of domestic servitude. He recalls being forced to clean, cook and take care of his carer’s children in return for food. She forced him into silence, telling him that if he ever wanted to see his family again, he couldn’t say anything, or else he would be taken away.

What we know

Sadly, Sir Mo Farah’s story is not one we are unfamiliar with. It is estimated that 40.3 million people are living in conditions of exploitation globally, but it is hard to report exact numbers as the industry is clandestine in nature. However, it is estimated that 600,000 – 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.

No one is immune to the dangers of human trafficking. That being said, certain groups are at increased risk. 50% of victims are children, while 70% are women. Those living in poverty and under political unrest, for example, are also susceptible to human trafficking and exploitation.

While the statistics help us understand the root causes, it only presents the tip of the iceberg. Human trafficking is hidden in the shadows, through complex networks of abuse and coercion, allowing the industry to thrive.

What can we do?

In light of this year’s theme, the Use and Abuse of Technology, it would be good to encourage tech firms, governments, criminal justice systems and other private and public sectors to assess how they can use and monitor digital technologies to identify, protect and prevent future victims of human trafficking.

Solutions must centre the experiences and realities of victims of human trafficking without marginalising other groups. For example, under the Trump administration, two bills aiming to tackle exploitation and trafficking were passed – FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). These bills prohibited the advertisement (even inadvertently) of trafficked victims for sexual exploitation, shifting the onus onto tech firms to monitor activity on their sites. Whilst these solutions sound progressive in theory, in reality they served to marginalise sex workers, an already vulnerable group, who had adapted to the rise of technology and used the digital space to keep them safe – allowing them to form online communities.

Some actionable steps tech firms, governments, criminal justice systems and other sectors can take:

  1. Collaborating with groups already working to dismantle the human trafficking industry, such as Tech against Trafficking and Pasos Libres,
  2. Using surveillance methods such as drones in areas and industries which suffer from high volumes of human trafficking, such as agriculture and fishing,
  3. Using social media to raise awareness and disseminate useful knowledge and skills on how to prevent, identify and quell methods of online trafficking,
  4. Using anti-trafficking apps such as Modern Slavery Helpline, Stop App, The Safe Car Wash App and Farm Work Welfare App. 

In an increasingly digitised world, it is important we are vigilant and conscious of the online spaces we are creating. Sir Mo’s public address of his experience as a victim of human trafficking is a brilliant act of bravery and a necessary break in the chain which keeps the trafficking industry robust. By promoting transparency around his story, he has opened up room for tech firms, governments, criminal justice systems, and other public and private sectors to critically reflect on how their own infrastructure can encourage and even embolden human trafficking practices. Education and collaborative approaches are essential in all sectors to help eradicate modern slavery, which is why we have created the ‘Modern Slavery SME Toolkit’ which addresses how businesses can mitigate the risk of modern slavery in their operations. We have also worked with hospitality professionals across the country, developing partnerships with a number of universities, with the aim of raising awareness and equipping them with the tools to mitigate risk.

I have no doubt sharing his story has been the hardest race Mo has ever fought. No medal or world-record comes close to the freedom to tell your true story – to share your lived experiences. We need to make sure that his truth and his voice can help others.