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May 10, 2017

End Banking for Traffickers

On April 26, Senators Rubio and Warren introduced the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017 in the Senate. This bill would strengthen the role of the Department of Treasury and work to integrate financial institutions in global efforts to combat slavery, adding the Department of Treasury to President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (PITF).

Working as part of PITF would give Treasury the power to make recommendations and develop strategies on ways financial institutions could successfully target human trafficking using anti-money laundering investigations. From this position, the Department of Treasury could work to identify successful programs that already exist, recommend changes to procedural and control policies, and require greater employee training to recognize the signs of human trafficking in financial documents.

Human traffickers often use legitimate businesses to hide their illicit profits, taking advantage of our financial system and institutions to promote slavery. And they do it with near impunity. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), managing an organized trafficking network is virtually impossible without creating a trail. Financial investigation coupled with law enforcement could trace and stop trafficking sooner.

The bill also requires the government to report on the number of human trafficking-related money laundering cases that are investigated or prosecuted by the Treasury Department and Department of Justice each year. Effective reporting leads to best practices for using money trails to track traffickers. Disseminating successful procedural policies to banks and financial institutions across the globe would be a major blow against this crime.

Governments and NGOs around the world spend a combined estimated $124 million annually fighting trafficking, while traffickers earn an estimated $150 billion in illicit profits. Without increased prosecutions for these crimes, it’s likely that each victim rescued will simply be replaced by another victim.

With billions of trafficking dollars running through our financial systems, the financial community must be engaged in the fight against slavery. Employing the same financial institutions that traffickers use to store and move their illicit profits could prove to be a highly effective way of dismantling the lucrative business of human trafficking, and the U.S. government should use it.