Citizen scientists are helping researchers to root out modern day slavery in northern India using satellite imagery to locate brick kilns, sites notorious for using millions of slaves. Matthew Stock reports.
More than 18 million people in India are believed to be living in slavery... ... many forced to work in brick kilns like this one, despite a 1976 ban on bonded labour. Now, research led by the University of Nottingham is tracking sites like this from space in a bid to tackle modern-day slavery. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. DOREEN BOYD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AND READER AT SCHOOL OF GEOGRAPHY, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM, SAYING: "The brick kilns feature in an area that we call the 'Brick belt' and that's one and a half million square kilometres. So the only way we can really look for these areas of activity is through Earth observation from space." Using satelittes, this is how brick kilns look from space. A pilot project - called Slavery from Space - called on members of the public to scour images for brick kilns. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. JESSICA WARDLAW, RESEARCH FELLOW, NOTTINGHAM GEOSPATIAL INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM, SAYING: "A lot of the power behind citizen science comes from the number of people who actually participate. So what happens is one person will log on. And they will be presented with an image like this they will click on a brick kiln, on the image, and log it before they go on to the next image and find even more." India is home to 40 percent of the world's estimated 45.8 million slaves, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index. Researchers focused their attention on the 2-and-a-half thousand kilomtre area of Rajasthan in the remote north. Eventually they want to provide governments and aid workers with precise, verified locations of active brick kilns. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR ZOE TRODD, DIRECTOR OF THE RIGHTS LAB, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM, SAYING: "So we have built... the world's first really large scale research agenda for ending slavery. It means for the first time in the 230 year history of anti-slavery action we can actually underpin anti-slavery with a research platform." The project is one of several anti-slavery initiatives run by the university, including research on slave labor-free supply chains and human trafficking. They're now in talks with satellite companies to get better control over the imagery, and working on machine learning algorithms to speed up image analysis.