Human trafficking is a major human rights violation involving the crime of using violence, deception or coercion to trap people and then exploiting them for financial or personal gain. These include kidnapping women and forcing them into prostitution or sexual slavery, tricking people into forced labour, begging or crime, or forcing them into domestic servitude, marriage or organ removal.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are presently over 40 million victims of various forms of human trafficking worldwide. While human trafficking affects both men and women, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018 shows that the vast majority of victims detected across the world are mainly adult women but also include an increasing number of girls. This report also shows that there is a growing number of domestic trafficking – trafficking within the victim’s own country – alongside large long-distance flows of victims, especially to the wealthiest regions and countries in the world.

The travel industry has always been used as a tool by human traffickers because its key function is enabling the movement of people and goods across countries and continents. However, this also places travel service providers, both domestic and international, in a unique front-line position to prevent and disrupt this monstrous supply chain. By working together and collaborating with the relevant authorities, companies and individuals in the industry can all play a role in stopping this form of violence against women and girls.

This list offers 16 actions travel service providers can take to stop or prevent human trafficking. If you work in the travel industry, not all of these suggestions and ideas may be relevant or suitable to you, the company you work for, or the area you work in, but we hope this article can serve as a useful starting point for taking action.

Written and researched by Anushia Kandasivam. Additional content and research by Regina Yau.

For Companies and Organisations:

Action Against Trafficking #1: Align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 16

Consider aligning your business to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), which addresses various forms of violence, including human trafficking and torture. The SDGs provide a good framework for mapping out where your company can contribute to the bigger fight and to develop a focused action plan for genuine impact locally. Aligning your company with the SDGs provides an opportunity to turn the global challenge of human trafficking from a threat to your business to an opportunity to catalyse change in your community.


Action Against Trafficking #2: Take Action for Legislation

In many countries, there are specific laws in place to prevent human trafficking. A good way to get your company started in the fight against human trafficking is to proactively respond to existing legislation on human trafficking in your state or country, or collaborate with authorities and policy-makers in establishing one. As a travel industry player, your company will have useful insights and information that could help establish a national policy or law on human trafficking. If your government is not thinking about human trafficking, gather some data and use your insights to tell them why they should be doing something about it.


Action Against Trafficking #3: Establish Anti-Human Trafficking Policies

Even if your country does not have legislation for the prevention of human trafficking, companies in the travel industry can still their own specific policies and procedures covering human trafficking and child exploitation. For example, in 2004, several hotel brands got together and signed the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, a voluntary set of business principles hospitality companies can implement to prevent sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. The Code is a joint venture between the tourism private sector and ECPAT-USA. If you are a travel service provider in the USA, consider bringing your brand onboard with the Code, or lobbying your local sector to create something similar.

Action Against Trafficking #4: Include and Enforce Anti-Trafficking Clauses

Companies can and should include a clause in their contracts for their suppliers and service providers stating a zero-tolerance policy regarding human trafficking. This holds your contractors to account for creating their own internal policies to prevent and stop human trafficking, thus creating a domino effect throughout the travel industry service chain. For example, corporate travel managers – the companies and people who manage and buy for business travellers – are in a particularly strategic position to enforce anti-trafficking clauses by booking only airlines and hotels that have robust anti-human trafficking practices in place.


Action Against Trafficking #5: Review Regularly

Work with your procurement departments to identify goods and services associated with a high risk of trafficking, including labour used in cleaning crews, call centres, hotels and retail outlets. Review your company’s bookings process and sales cycle, conduct research online to ensure that a business you are partnering with is not linked to suspicious referral websites or companies. Policies and contracts are great but to really fight the problem, you should also make sure your own stables are clean.


Action Against Trafficking #6: Train Your Staff

Having an anti-human trafficking policy is great, but actually implementing it in the day-to-day best practices of a company is more important. The policy remains window dressing as long as employees are unable to recognise human trafficking and do not know what to do when they encounter it. Hotels and airlines are already providing training for staff on how to recognise a person who is being trafficked – a person who cannot speak freely, does not make eye contact or does not seem to belong to the party they arrive with. Travel agencies, business travel managers and other companies should too so that staff can spot suspicious behaviour from a client. Forced marriage and forced labour are also forms of human trafficking. A corporate client or an individual booking a “family holiday” could both be involved in it. If your company does not provide such training, take advantage of online resources and get together with colleagues to ask for training.


Action Against Trafficking #7: Get Help From Experts

Creating a new anti-human trafficking policy for your company and an accompanying training programme for your staff can be a daunting prospect. So get help from anti-human trafficking organisations that provide training for industry professionals or help companies set up their anti-human trafficking policies and programmes. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) provides guidance and free online training on human trafficking that is accessible to the public. In the USA, ECPAT-USA provides free resources and online training to hotel associates and other travel industry professionals, all of which are accessible to the public.


Action Against Trafficking #8: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

One of the ways that companies can ensure that their anti-human trafficking policies are practised in their day-to-day business is through clear internal and external communications. Internally, all staff should be required to attend training sessions, provided easy access to the policy and informed of the resources available to them should they come across cases of human trafficking. Communicate your anti-human trafficking policy to the public through a variety of channels including posting public service announcement videos on your company website and putting up anti-human trafficking signage in your business premises and vehicles. Not only will these measures raise public awareness of human trafficking (and what your company is doing to fight it), it will also send a signal to traffickers that your company will not tolerate human trafficking.

Action Against Trafficking #9: Encourage and Enable Timely Reporting  

In addition to training your staff to understand, recognise, and effectively intervene when they witness situations that could involve human trafficking, make sure that your company also has safe and efficient channels for reporting cases in place, ready for staff to access with clear instructions on reporting procedures. Channels for reporting cases can include informing a member of the hotel management or company security specifically tasked with handling human trafficking cases, contacting the local law enforcement contact person, or calling the national human trafficking hotline. Last but not least, work to create a work environment where staff and contractors know they will have support if they report suspicious behaviour.


Action Against Trafficking #10: Make It Easy To Raise The Alarm

Some countries already have hotlines run by the government or specialist organisations that people can call when they experience, witness, or suspect human trafficking of any kind. However, a person on the street may not be aware that such hotlines exist or may be unsure of what number to call. If your company manages any transportation hub (e.g. airports, railway stations, ports and so on), you can help bridge this knowledge gap by making the hotline number(s) accessible in public spaces you manage. For example, your company could make periodic public service announcements throughout the day stating the number, include the number on your website as part of your contact page and ensure that your concierge and information desk teams are able to provide the number if requested by a member of the public (and to make the call on the person’s behalf if need be). If your state, region or country does not have one, use your business clout or get together with industry partners and lobby the government for one. If you have enough resources, offer to help fund a hotline or sponsor training for those working it.


Action Against Trafficking #11: Support Anti-Human Trafficking Non-profits

Anti-VAW organisations (including those who specialise in preventing the human trafficking of women and girls) are some of the most severely understaffed and underfunded in the world and they could use your help. Make collaboration with anti-human trafficking or anti-violence against women (VAW) organisations part of your company’s anti-human trafficking efforts. There is a wide range of ways you can support anti-human trafficking organisations; for example, by mobilising your management and staff to join their initiatives where appropriate, working with such organisations on joint programmes and providing significant funding for their anti-human trafficking work.


For Individual Travel Industry Professionals

Action Against Trafficking #12: For Drivers, Cabin Crew, Stewards

Human traffickers rely on all kinds of transportation for their heinous trade – planes, trains, and automobiles – whatever enables them to move their human “cargo”. This means that drivers, cabin crew, stewards, conductors and other transportation workers can be the eyes and ears of the world’s transportation hubs and lines. If your company provides training for recognising and intervening in potential trafficking cases, attend them even if they are optional. If your employer doesn’t have any policies or training regarding human trafficking, get together with your colleagues and ask your team leaders or your union to demand training from the company or even for the state to step up human trafficking laws. Take the initiative to use online training resources to learn how to spot and stop human trafficking.

Action Against Trafficking #13: For Hotel Staff

Unfortunately, hotels are often the last stop in the journey of a victim of human trafficking and many big chains have been accused of profiting from it. Whether you are part of the cleaning crew, the front-desk staff or the food & beverage team, take the initiative to stay vigilant for signs of human trafficking. Learn about what victims look like and about how traffickers behave. A number of international hotel companies have already started training all their staff to recognise the signs of various types of violence against women, including human trafficking. Take advantage of this type of training if it is offered by your employer, and if not offered, get together with your colleagues and lobby for training.


Action Against Trafficking #14: For Accommodation Landlords and Managers

There has been a growing trend in the use of AirBnBs and other private holiday rentals as “pop-up brothels” for sex traffickers. One example of how a landlord or manager of a private holiday rental can get involved in the fight against human trafficking is seen in AirBnB’s expansion of their anti-human trafficking efforts with the help of Polaris. If the company you use for advertising your holiday rental property does not have an anti-human trafficking policy, get together with other landlords and ask for one. Run background checks on prospective renters to make sure they are who they say; many landlords think they are renting to a couple or a small group only to have a trafficker bring in a large number of women for the “parties” they are hosting. Listen to the neighbours – do they complain about lots of people coming and going? Find out how to report cases of human trafficking in your area so you can bring in specialist intervention should your prevention efforts fail.


Action Against Trafficking #15: For Travel Agency Staff

Travel agency staff can help prevent human trafficking by keeping an eye out for patterns in the behaviour of their clients. A company or person that is always organising large travel groups to the same places may be totally legitimate or may be part of a human trafficking ring. A small family group may be involved in the crime as well – remember, forced marriage is also a form of human trafficking. Educate yourself where the most common sources and destinations for the different kinds of traffickers are. If you are working on major public events, keep in mind that large sporting events are a huge draw for sex and forced labour traffickers.


Action Against Trafficking #16: For Industry Captains and Leaders

Whether or not the country you work in or the company you work for has anti-human trafficking laws and policies, individual leaders in the travel service industry are in a position to provide support for their members when it comes to recognising, reporting and stopping human trafficking. Unions can wield enough power to demand for anti-human trafficking training for their members and to pressure employers to implement policies for dealing with human trafficking. Executive leaders, whether they be in an office or out in the field – pilots, ship captains, et al – can and should support and authorise intervention and reporting measures taken by their peers and staff when dealing with human traffickers and victims. Regardless of the leadership position you occupy, use whatever clout comes with that position for good in order to make the travel industry as inhospitable and disruptive to human traffickers as possible.

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