Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an announcement Tuesday at City Hall touted the award of a $200,000 check to a local nonprofit that helps victims of sex trafficking.
The money comes from a partnership between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Wells Fargo, the latter of which has paid more than $15 billion in settlements over the last decade for unethical banking and loan practices. The banking company has remained under scrutiny for overcharging customers as recently as August, according to reporting by The New York Times.
Wellspring Living, the Atlanta nonprofit that received the funding, estimated that $200,000 could help 80 women through its programming. The organization offers services including recovery programs, housing and professional development to victims and people at risk of sex trafficking.
“Wells Fargo’s been a great friend for lots of years, and now we are really good friends,” Wellspring founder and executive director Mary Frances Bowley said as she accepted the check. “And so we’ll love to talk to you a little bit more for the future.”
During the press conference, Mayor Bottoms also awarded Bowley the Phoenix Award, the city’s highest honor.
While human trafficking constitutes a horrific set of crimes, nailing down an accurate scope of the problem in Atlanta and beyond has long been a challenge for advocates, lawmakers and researchers.
In her remarks Tuesday, Ouleye Ndoye, senior human trafficking fellow for the city of Atlanta, acknowledged that the city’s commonly cited status as a hub of sex trafficking is a mischaracterization born out of its frequent placement at the top of alphabetical lists.
“Statistics are hard to gather, because [human trafficking is] an underground issue,” Ndoye said. “And people often say that Atlanta is number one, but that’s really because we start with an ‘a.'”
A moment earlier, she publicly cited an estimate of human trafficking “industry” profits that fact-checkers with The Washington Post characterized as “practically invented out of whole cloth.”
“I think without giving some kind of context, you leave people who don’t know anything about it confused,” Ndoye said when asked by WABE about the discredited estimates.
Ndoye said the city of Atlanta plans to begin offering grant funding to organizations that work on forced labor exploitation, which the United Nations’ International Labor Organization has estimated makes up roughly two-thirds of global human trafficking.
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo’s award comes as the bank continues to try to improve its scandal-laden public image.
“We’ve increased our philanthropy across the enterprise from $280 million to over $440 million,” said Chad Gregory, region bank president for Wells Fargo.
That increase is since last year, he said.
Also, last year, the bank agreed to a consent order issued by the Federal Reserve that caps its potential profits at $2 trillion until regulators are satisfied Wells Fargo has overhauled its governance.
When asked about recent reporting that the bank continues to overcharge customers, even after their accounts are closed, Gregory responded: “If there are any concerns, please go into one of our branch locations. We have 1500 branch locations across the enterprise, and we are going to take care of any issue that arises.”