How a text message helped save Ukrainian refugees from slavery

Anti-slavery charity Unseen UK sought to reach Ukrainian refugees entering Britain before they fell into the hands of human traffickers.

Unseen UK MW Awards 2023
Source: Unseen UK

Some 14 million people – mostly women and children – are estimated to have fled their homes due to the war in Ukraine so far. Amid the chaos, human traffickers are exploiting vulnerable Ukrainians into slavery, something anti-slavery charity Unseen UK and agency BBD Perfect Storm are determined to stop.

Their idea was to develop a welcome text containing information and advice that would prevent a life of slavery before it could start. Unable to reach Ukrainian telecoms providers due to the ongoing invasion, the partners focused on contacting UK-based telcos with affiliates in Ukraine.

BBD Perfect Storm created a tweet mechanic allowing social media users to prompt their provider into action. Once on board with the campaign, the telecoms brands worked with their Ukrainian partners to geo-target refugees, automatically sending the text once a Ukrainian mobile was switched on in the UK.

The text explained in English, Ukrainian and Russian the dangers posed by traffickers. All Ukrainian refugees were also pointed to an online hub with information on how to get settled safely.

Such was the success achieved in the UK, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked to take the welcome text Europe-wide, sending the message out across 59 member states within its jurisdiction. The partners also created a pan-European website offering support, visited by tens of thousands of Ukrainians.

Winner of the 2023 Marketing Week Award for Best Use of a Small Budget, Unseen UK CEO Andrew Wallis defines the text message as the difference between safe passage and a life of slavery.