How Asian bankers can become heroes in the fight against modern slavery
- With US$150 billion generated from this crime annually, banks must ensure that none of this illegal money makes it into their business
- Throughout Asia, many people in banking compliance do their jobs without realising that their work could have a major positive impact
Earlier this month, I travelled to Washington for the American Bankers Association Conference. After my panel on human trafficking, a banker came up and told me his story. Three years ago, he and his family were travelling across America when they stopped at a motel. That evening, he noticed a sad, frightened-looking teenage girl being pulled into a room by an older man. He knew she was a prostitute about to be used by this patron.
He went to the motel manager and told her what he had seen, and returned to his room. Twenty minutes later, a police car pulled up and he saw someone being taken away in handcuffs. The young girl was escorted to another car. He said he felt good that he was able to help this young girl. He said this was a major milestone in his life – something he felt very proud of.
I then asked what he did. He said he was a compliance officer in a bank focusing on money laundering. I asked if they did work related to modern slavery. He said they were just getting started in this area, that his job was not exciting and didn’t make much of a difference.
Throughout Asia, many people in banking compliance do their jobs without realising that their work could have a major positive impact. Human trafficking continues to emerge as an issue within the banking sector. With US$150 billion generated from this crime annually, banks must ensure that none of this illegal money makes it into their business, or the bank can be fined for money laundering.
Why is this relevant? Out of the 40 million people in modern slavery, the counter-slavery community only helps 0.2 per cent of the victims. With Asian banks stepping up and getting involved in the investigations, this could have a significant impact on the number of people helped.
I told the ABA banker that while his day-to-day efforts might not seem as dramatic as his motel encounter, there were many people who could be assisted through his work, and that those involved will be our future heroes, because what they do will not only help to protect their bank, but also protect many other people like that teenage girl. I was surprised that he hadn’t understood this before.
Asian banks need to understand that by addressing the issue of human trafficking, they are not only protecting their business, they are also helping to address one of the biggest injustices of our time.
Matt Friedman, CEO, The Mekong Club