Human Trafficking:

Modern-Day Slavery

Criminal Activity In The Travel And Tourism Industries

Human trafficking is a global crime that often abuses travel industry services. It is important for all travel-related professionals to become aware of the issue and learn how to identify a victim of human trafficking. That alone could save a life.

Human trafficking is a shocking, yet very real, crime that leaves millions of victims in its wake every year. Offenders take advantage of the travel and tourism industries to smuggle victims from one location to another, often going unnoticed. Airline professionals can help stop this unlawful, inhumane activity by becoming educated about the problem and learning the signs to watch for, as well as how to handle certain situations. Airlines, for their part, can put in place procedures to help combat human trafficking and provide formal training to keep employees safe while aiding in the rescue of victims.

Following are three examples of actions individuals have taken to rescue victims of human trafficking, as reported by Airline Ambassadors International. The non-profit organization was formed by flight attendants and other airline employees to provide humanitarian aid to children and families in need as well as relief and development to underprivileged communities worldwide.

1. Patty, an airline passenger educated in how to identify the signs of human trafficking, took a seat in the boarding area next to a man with a little girl. She asked him the age of the girl. The man answered that she was about 2 years old, but he was not quite sure. When Patty asked where the mother was, he got very nervous and disappeared with the girl for a few minutes. When they returned, the child appeared to be under the influence of drugs. When onboard, Patty notified the flight attendants, who asked the captain to contact the operation control center (OCC). Upon landing, the man was questioned and apprehended by officials in customs (see related article, Keep Your Eyes Open).

2. In another case, a woman was shopping with her 3-year-old daughter, who was sitting in the shopping cart. She turned away for a moment, and when she turned back, the cart was empty. The store manager locked all entry doors and began a search. After 45 minutes, the child was found in a bathroom. Her hair had been cut like a boy, and she was dressed in boys’ clothing. Nearby, there was a scrap of paper with an airline itinerary and phone number. Did a trafficker plan to transport the abducted child to another city via airplane?

3. Regina, a flight attendant working in first class, noticed a girl about 9 years old boarding the plane with an older man. Something in the girl’s eyes did not seem right. When she tried to talk to the girl, the man intervened. Later, Regina brought back a slice of cheesecake from first class as a treat for the girl. When she reached for it, the man refused to let the girl take it. Later, when the girl went to the lavatory, the man tried to enter with her. “You may not enter with her,” Regina said. “Stay out of my business,” the man replied. “She belongs to me, and I’ll do what I want.” He stuck his foot in the lavatory door so it would not close. Regina could see the girl was trembling in fear, so she asked the pilots to contact authorities. Later, the immigration agent praised Regina’s actions, which freed the 9-year-old girl from a probable life of sexual exploitation.

27 Million Victims

Every year, 800,000 people around the world are trafficked. More than half of the 27 million people who are held in slavery today are women and children. These victims are used for a number of criminal acts including sexual exploitation, prostitution, slavery and forced labor.

What Is Human Trafficking?

Many people are surprised to hear that human trafficking is the fastest-growing and second largest criminal industry in the world. It generates US$32 billion annually and affects 161 countries worldwide. Today, 27 million people are held in slavery, with 800,000 victims trafficked globally every year. More than half are women and children.

Human trafficking can occur within domestic borders or originate in one country, travel through one or several transit countries until reaching a final destination, often a remote country. It victimizes children, men and women, and can be for a range of exploitative purposes, such as sexual exploitation, prostitution, slavery and forced labor. Slaves can be found in restaurants, fisheries, brothels, farms and homes. Some facts recently reported by Airline Ambassadors International include:

  • The share of detected cases of trafficking for forced labor has doubled during the past four years.
  • Domestic trafficking accounts for 27 percent of all detected trafficking cases around the world.
  • Between 2007 and 2010, almost half of the victims detected worldwide were trafficked across borders within their region of origin. About 24 percent were trafficked inter-regionally.
Code Of Conduct

ECPAT International, a global network of organizations and individuals working together for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, issued a code of conduct to encourage the world community to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free and secure from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation. This is one of the first initiatives to define the role and obligations of travel companies with regard to the issue of child sex tourism.

How Is The Travel Industry Involved?

Criminals use service providers within the travel industry to perpetrate their crimes:

  • Travel agents have unknowingly booked travel for perpetrators.
  • Travelers have witnessed the crime in action without realizing what they were seeing.
  • Airlines have unwittingly transported criminals and victims.
  • Hotels have unsuspectingly served as bases of criminal activity.

None of us would knowingly participate, but because this criminal industry has become sophisticated in many ways, even reputable services and products are used to perpetrate this crime.

More and more travel-related companies are becoming aware of the part they can play in stopping this terrible crime. Airlines especially have a unique opportunity, considering their key role in regional community development and in collaboration among nations. The airline community has immense power to make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.

Any efforts — small or large, internal or external, individual or collaborative — can have a positive impact on eradicating the crime of human trafficking. One of the simplest, yet most-effective, ways to engage is to sign a code of conduct created by End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) International in conjunction with the travel industry.

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ECPAT Code Of Conduct

Aware of the power and responsibility of the travel industry, ECPAT International has issued a code of conduct with clear criteria and commitments to fight sexual exploitation of children. This is one of the first initiatives to define the role and obligations of travel companies with regard to the issue of child sex tourism. The code’s criterion involves:

  • Establishing policies and procedures against sexual exploitation of children;
  • Offering training to employees about children’s rights, the prevention of sexual exploitation and how to report suspected cases;
  • Including a clause in contracts throughout the travel industry value chain stating a common repudiation and zero tolerance policy of sexual exploitation of children;
  • Providing information to travelers on children’s rights, the prevention of sexual exploitation of children and how to report suspected cases;
  • Supporting, collaborating and engaging stakeholders in the prevention of sexual exploitation of children;
  • Providing annual reports on implementation of code-related activities.

To date, more than 1,200 companies in the industry have already signed the code, including Delta Air Lines in the United States and Volaris in Mexico.

Passport To Freedom

In September 2012, Sabre Holdings® became the first global travel technology company to sign the EPCAT code and at the same time launch “Passport to Freedom,” a comprehensive initiative seeking to unite the travel and tourism industries to fight child sex trafficking and human slavery. Specifically, in addition to meeting code requirements, Sabre Holdings committed to:

  • Train its 10,000 global employees so they are better informed on the issues,
  • Raise awareness with airline, hotel, travel agency and corporate customers,
  • Inform travelers using online booking tools so they are better prepared to identify and report potential trafficking activities,
  • Partner with non-profit, travel and government organizations that support global advocacy toward ending human trafficking,
  • Update company policies, including its “supplier code of conduct,” to reflect the company’s stand against human trafficking.
How Can Airlines Make A Difference?

There are many ways the airline community can get involved. For example, it can use in-flight videos, publish articles in in-flight magazines and display posters in call centers to build awareness. However, two of the most-effective actions airlines can take are to train employees and sign the code.

Training is available through several sources online or in print; however, another option is inperson training. Airline Ambassadors International has developed a training curriculum that is being implemented around the world. Among its many initiatives, the organization has launched a special effort dedicated to raising awareness and providing training to crewmembers and airport employees on detecting human trafficking situations and the actions individuals can take to involve authorities and rescue victims.

To track, fight and end human trafficking, international and local laws and regulations are needed, and they need to be executed and enforced. The United Nations has very precisely defined the elements that must be present for an act to be defined as a human trafficking crime.

According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of:

  • The threat or use of force or other forms of coercion;
  • Abduction;
  • Fraud;
  • Deception;
  • Abuse of power;
  • A position of vulnerability;
  • Giving or receiving of payments.

The United Nations also states that exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking of persons, especially women and children, and currently 154 countries have signed and ratified it. This is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on human trafficking. By 2012, 134 countries and territories had enacted legislation criminalizing trafficking.

Significant progress has been made to identify and stop human trafficking; however, unless professionals in the tourism and travel industries are involved, the issue will continue to grow as criminals become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques for victimizing and transporting innocent people.

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