The global slave trade is thriving thanks to Silicon Valley — and many are arguing why they aren’t being held accountable for facilitating the horrendous practice.
In an investigation, a team from BBC News Arabic posing as a husband and wife found it was disturbingly easy to find human traffickers selling slaves via Instagram and other popular apps.
In a video the investigators say:
“In the Gulf, women employed as domestic workers are being sold online via apps approved and provided by Google and Apple, “It’s been called an online slave market.”
The investigators contacted and met with several of the traffickers advertising domestic workers for sale online, including one in Kuwait who offered to sell them “Fatou” — a 16-year-old girl from Guinea, West Africa — for US$3,800.
“This is the quintessential example of modern slavery,” Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur, Contemporary Forms of Slavery, told BBC News Arabic. “Here we see a child being sold and traded like chattel, like a piece of property.”
In the wake of the BBC News Arabic investigation, authorities in Kuwait have reportedly “summoned” several of the people behind the social media accounts selling slaves, according to a follow-up BBC News story published.
The authorities told BBC News they also forced the account holders to take down their ads and sign a legal agreement promising to no longer “participate in this activity.”
However, the update makes no mention of any sort of punishment or legal ramifications for the sales, despite Nasser al-Mousawi, Head of Kuwait’s Domestic Workers Office, telling the BBC News Arabic team during its investigation that “anyone who deals in this type of business will be punished.”
Meanwhile, Instagram told BBC News it “had removed further content across Facebook and Instagram, and would prevent the creation of new accounts designed to be used for the online slave market.”
But Urmila Bhoola says that’s simply not good enough.
“Google, Apple, Facebook, or any other companies [that] are hosting apps like these, they have to be held accountable,” she told BBC News Arabic. “What they are doing is promoting an online slave market.”
American international lawyer Kimberley Motley has taken on the legal case of Fatou — whom authorities located following the investigation and deported home to Guinea where a local family adopted her— and she thinks the big tech companies that facilitated the slave trade should provide monetary compensation for her client.
“On [the] Apple Store, they proclaim that they are responsible for everything that’s put on their store,” Motley told BBC News. “And so our question is, what does that responsibility mean?”
Perhaps an even more important question: can Silicon Valley stop their products from being used for human trafficking in the first place?
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