“The Knoble is a game-changer.”
That’s the verdict of Matt Friedman, who has dedicated forty years of his life to battling human trafficking. Friedman spent years in places like Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand working for both the United States government and the United Nations to try and stop human trafficking, a modern form of sexual slavery that earns global profits of an estimated $150 billion a year. It is estimated that between 20-40 million people are victims of trafficking. Most are young girls.
The Knoble would like to change that. A self-described “network of financial crime and fintech professionals with a passion for protecting vulnerable people,” the nonprofit is a private-sector effort to stop the human trade in slaves used for sex. Unlike governmental efforts, which Friedman says “can drag their feet,” the Knoble can work quickly and efficiently to detect and root out traffickers.
The group is the brainchild of Ian Mitchell, who had spent twenty years fighting internet financial crime and fraud in the banking industry. Mitchell was ready to retire when he met Friedman in Atlanta in 2018. While at a mutual friend’s house the two were talking and Friedman described his work as a public health official for the UN. He told a harrowing story about being in Nepal, where he discovered that girls were tricked into marrying somebody and sold into a brothel in Mumbai, India. Friedman was invited do a public health check, and he found an eleven year-old trafficking victim.
The girl called to Friedman, wrapped herself around him, and said, “Save me!” Told he would be killed if he tried to save the girl, Friedman left and returned with policemen. The girl was gone. He vowed to never lethal happen again.
Mitchell was floored. “I realized in this encounter with this former manager of the United Nations that fights human trafficking that I had only been fighting half the battle,” he said recently. “That there’s actually evil out there in the form of human trafficking, and vulnerable populations, that there’s more to be done.”
Mitchell created a network and aimed to “expand awareness” to “go and tackle real problems not for any financial benefit but because it’s the right thing to do.” Mitchell’s own career fighting financial crime and fraud for banks and other organizations in the private sector led to an obvious idea: why not use the private sector to fight human trafficking?
The money made in the human sex trade often goes through banks, which means that in the digital age it is fairly easy to detect wrongdoing. Friedman gives this example: there is a nail salon that is open from nine am to nine pm every day. Yet the bank that the business works with notices transactions going on overnight in increments of $100 and $200 dollars. It’s a red flag indicating that prostitution and trafficking are going on. Before police or government authorities can get involved and the victims can be hidden by the perpetrators, the private sector has already detected a crime. “The private sector, unlike a lot of government agencies, wants results right now,” Friedman says.
The Knoble works with five groups: Financial crime professionals (fraud, cyber, data and analytics, technology), financial institutions, businesses, government and non-governmental organizations. The leadership team includes Shawn Holtzclaw, who worked for Equifax, and Corey Spagnoli, who has had leadership roles leadership roles in multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture. Friedman emphasizes that these companies become eager to help once they realize that their expertise does not involve the kind of danger he encountered and can still be so effective. “They feel good about their companies. This is the social part of ESG, Environmental, Social and Governance, the metrics that are important to measure their success.”
“We have been using $350 million dollars to try and fight a $150 billion problem,” Friedman adds. “I truly believe that the Knoble and the private sector can be a silver bullet.”