It was going on 5:30 p.m. in Nairobi, Kenya, when Fiachra Kearney called into the “Talk Back” radio program on KGVO. His call wasn’t unexpected, and for the next hour, the conversation focused on the nuances of human trafficking.

It’s a subject Kearney knows well. The CEO of Global Eyes took the skills he gained in the Australian military to Africa, where his counter-trafficking organization works to interrupt the illegal shipment of people and wildlife.

More than 800,000 men, women and children fall victim to human trafficking each year, according to one organization. And while Global Eyes is focused on Africa and Southeast Asia, the problem spans the globe, and Kearney believes it will take a global effort to make a difference.

“We’re working with a couple departments in the U.S. government to find leverage options to deal with the people we have identified,” Kearney said. “We have to think of new ways to tackle this problem.”

Joining the conversation Wednesday morning were radio hosts Jon King and Peter Christian, along with morning guest Bob Seidenschwarz, who serves as chairman of the board for the Montana World Affairs Council.

Next month, the World Affairs Council and the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana will host an international conference on human trafficking, calling experts from around the world and locally to speak on modern slavery – including prostitution and indentured labor – and its local impacts.

“We’ve got an issue in the Bakken,” said Seidenschwarz. “It has attracted tremendous amounts of money and all the issues that come with it. We are experiencing (trafficking) here in Montana.”

***

More than 15 years ago, Kearney began his efforts by working on the illegal practice of wildlife trafficking. Conservation had always been his passion, and his upbringing in Somalia gave him an insider’s view to the workings of Africa, where his organization is based.

Global Eyes is incorporated in the U.S. and is opening a second post in Australia, bringing it closer to Southeast Asia, a world leader in illegal trafficking. In this business, he said, job security is guaranteed.

“Southeast Asia is a key hub for human trafficking, and also wildlife out of Africa,” Kearney said. “Africa has its own significant problem with women and children being sold into various forms of human bondage. There’s no shortage of work.”

Kearney described an illicit world ripe with political instability, corruption, conflict and organized crime. Together, he said, they weaken human values and, when left unmitigated, the vulnerable pay the price, often through deception or exploitation.

To mitigate the problem, Global Eyes is establishing what Kearney described as intelligence networks. The efforts are long term and built in secrecy. The organization includes a former head of global intelligence services with the U.S. government and a senior Kenyan police officer who served as a guard for the U.S. embassy.

“I had exposure to the hot areas growing up, and as I started working wildlife trafficking, I realized the problem set was very similar to human trafficking,” said Kearney. “You end up in many of these countries looking at the horrendous conditions human beings endure.”

While targeted sanctions by the U.S. government may help, Kearney believes third-party pressure will play the greatest role in reversing the trade. Consumer scrutiny applied to multinational corporations could also help.

“As people become more aware, corporations are going to manage their PR more closely.” Kearney said. “If they don’t want to have a constructive relationship and their supply chain is engaged in human rights abuses, we’ll take a conflict approach quite happily with them.”

The conference, “Fight for Hope and Freedom: Human Trafficking, Montana and the World,” runs April 15-17 at the University of Montana. For more information, visit umt.edu/mansfield/events/conference/agenda.php.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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