By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Southeast Asia's largest ride-hailing firm Grab said on Monday it is to train its millions of drivers to spot victims of human trafficking in one of the world's worst hit regions.
Businesses around the world are under increased pressure to tackle human trafficking, which affects more than 40 million people globally and generates $150 billion a year, but they have been slow to act in Asia.
"They (drivers) can be our eyes and ears on the ground," Grab spokeswoman Teresa Tan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the firm's Singapore headquarters.
"Taxi and ride-hailing drivers often unwittingly become the first point of contact for traffickers or victims, at airports or bus terminals. We want to make sure if that happens, they can detect and report these instances to authorities," she added.
Grab, which operates in eight countries from Vietnam to Indonesia, has teamed up with anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared to offer training through its app, starting this year in Cambodia and the Philippines.
From migrant workers trapped in forced labour to women forced into marriage, Asia has the world's second highest prevalence of modern slavery after Africa, according to the United Nations.
From airlines to hotels, the travel industry is on the front line of the fight against trafficking, and campaigners hope the popularity of ride-sharing will help bolster the effort.
"This is a dynamic crime and it often involves moving people around," said Archana Kotecha, a regional director at Liberty Shared, by phone from Hong Kong.
"Ride-sharing methods have by far become the most popular in this region and that's why we felt it would be a good idea."
Grab has more than 9 million drivers, delivery and merchant partners who provide private car, motorbike, taxi, carpooling and food delivery services in the region.
Uber, which sold its Southeast Asian business to Grab last year, introduced similar training for its drivers last year.
Kotecha said it was important for Asian businesses to be proactive and expressed hopes more would follow suit.
"Asia has a lot of catch-up to play, given that we have some of the world's highest number of victims and this is where a lot of the world's supply chains are located," she said.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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