Georgia’s response to modern slavery is far ahead of the other states that an international expert has visited, but he said that’s where the good news stops.

Matthew Friedman is the CEO of the Hong Kong-based Mekong Club, which fights modern slavery. He was in Atlanta on Aug. 3 as part of a 70-day tour to raise awareness about human trafficking.

After speaking engagements at the Buckhead Rotary Club, Rubicon Global, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a visit with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, Freidman talked to the AJT about human trafficking in Georgia and the world.

Matt Friedman

Matt Friedman

“Most people think slavery is a thing of the past,” Friedman said. “But in reality we have more slaves today than any other time in history.”

According to Friedman, there are an estimated 1.5 million slaves in North America and an additional 21 million worldwide. Of that number, only 48,000 people each year are receiving help.

Atlanta is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in the United States. Some experts estimate that 200 to 300 people are moved through the city each month to be used for forced prostitution, but after meeting with Olens, Friedman said the steps Georgia has taken are encouraging.

“Many of the other states I visit have organizations working on the problem, but they aren’t working together,” Friedman said. “There’s less of a sense of addressing it at a state level. In Georgia, you have enough of these organizations that have alliances going up to the state. That’s quite exciting because we need more states to do that.”

But Friedman said Georgia and the rest of the world have a long way to go in fighting and raising awareness of human trafficking.

For instance, he said, 75 percent of victims of human trafficking are forced into labor and not just prostitution, and 60 percent of those in forced labor are involved with supply chains. The profits generated from that forced labor total about $150 billion a year, while the amount spent to fight it is only $350 million.

Friedman said people can help by learning about the problem and sharing the information. Before you buy a branded item, go online to see whether the corporation has a policy on forced labor.

Friedman is developing an app to help consumers decipher which products and brands use forced labor. He has also written a book about modern slavery, “Where Were You?”

“People feel like the problem is too big for them and they have nothing to offer,” he said. “The size of the issue tends to shut people down. What we in the counter-trafficking world haven’t done a good enough job of is helping people to understand that everyone has a part to play. If everyone did small, compassionate gestures and we had hundreds of millions of people doing that, it would add up to something quite big.”