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Fighting migrant worker exploitation with digital tech

Migrant workers are highly vulnerable to exploitation, but digital technology can help protect them. Deakin Business School’s Van-Hau Trieu discusses her work in this area and how the best tech, used ethically, can make for a better world.

In business development, marketing, and entrepreneurship, circa 2020s, IT, digital analytics and Artificial Intelligence have become everything. They drive strategy, inform all operations, and are fundamental to success. What is less well known is the role these domains can play in creating a fairer, more just world.

Awareness about IT’s moral potential is growing, according to Deakin Business School’s Dr Van-Hau Trieu, who is passionate about “identifying, contextualizing, and developing effective ethical and moral principles to help organisations design, develop, and use information systems responsibly”.

One such organisation is the Australian Council of Trade Unions in Victoria. Dr Trieu worked with a team of researchers and practitioners to help the Council use digital technologies to support non-English speaking background workers vulnerable to exploitation.

“The ACTU in Victoria recognised that much of the material on workers’ rights and protections, for example information on wage theft and what to do about it, was not presented in an appropriate way. It was not suited to people who have English as a second language, it assumed local knowledge, and was overly complicated,” Dr Trieu said.

“The aim of the project was to utilise IT to ensure that the information provided to Non-English Speaking Background workers and migrant workers was accessible and user-friendly. These groups are at risk of exploitation, so it is vital that they are given the information they need on their rights, so they are supported and protected.”

The project is on-going but will see the Council leverage community figures to deliver “trusted, in-language workplace rights.”

For Dr Trieu, ‘responsible IT’ covers both the use of technology for good causes — such as using advanced natural language processing to help identify and minimise biased language in job postings and advertisements — as well as evaluating emerging IT from an ethical perspective.

“The use of new technologies raises societal and ethical problems for organisations and societies. There are many unintended consequences that emerge, such as the issues of surveillance, exclusion, and isolation, which need to be monitored, managed, and/or eliminated,” Dr Trieu said.

“On the one hand, the designers of the new technologies need to think carefully about how technologies are built and make sure they are beneficial not only in economic terms but also socially, personally, and environmentally. And of course, they need to ensure that the new technologies are not harmful to people, communities, environment, and societies.”

Dr Trieu leads dedicated study on ethical and responsible use of IT for the Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics.

“We design and teach units that focus deeply on these aspects to make sure students have good knowledge and understanding of the important role of ethical and responsible use of IT.”