When I explain to people what I do for work, they are often surprised and caught off guard. You would assume that my work isn’t great “party conversation,” but I find that people like to talk about human rights and protecting childhood. As the director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA, I work with companies to understand how human traffickers (with a focus on child sex traffickers) may use their infrastructure to exploit people.
People tend to assume that children are only trafficked outside of the U.S. They’re often surprised and distressed to hear how prevalent the problem is here in our country. People are also curious about the companies we work with in order to make informed purchasing decisions that protect children.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 40.3 million people are exploited in human trafficking. One in four of those victims are children. ECPAT-USA is the U.S. brand of ECPAT International, a policy organization that works to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. Corporate policy, awareness, and training play a vital role in our work. Our corporate engagement strategy is focused on the travel sector because children are exploited in local hotels through prostitution and moved via commercial airlines, buses, and on-demand travel companies.
We guide companies to implement the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, which is a set of six steps companies put in place to comprehensively address the issue. Code members implement anti-trafficking policies, training, clauses, awareness programs for travelers, engage stakeholders, and report annually. The Code is operational and weaves corporate social responsibility through many departments. Through our corporate engagement, in the last year alone, ECPAT-USA supported companies in training over 86,000 travel associates.
Before we started our work, these industries were anonymous and risk-free to traffickers and exploiters. Sometimes employees would see the signs of trafficking and not know what they were looking at—they would either continue with their responsibilities or kick the individuals off their premises. Neither response helped anyone except the traffickers, who could just move their businesses down the road.
In stark contrast, we now see protocols and response procedures implemented that empower employees to change the course of children’s lives for the better. When associates know what they are looking at and know what to do, they act.
One hotel brand that we work with had a well-informed and active security director at a U.S. property. To protect his anonymity, let’s call him Benjamin. Benjamin trained his whole staff on the issue and how to respond to indicators. Raymond, the head of a trafficking ring, checked into Benjamin’s hotel thinking it would be like the 400 (yes, 400) hotels where he sold children before. Instead of kicking Raymond out of the hotel, Benjamin’s staff went through their protocol for responding to suspicious activity. Their protocol led them to Jessica and Sam, two children who Raymond was planning to exploit in the hotel, but were instead reunited with their families.
To me, Benjamin is a hero. And he is proud of what he did and proud to work for a company that supports him in protecting childhood.
Beyond the travel sector
ECPAT-USA also helps companies outside the travel space implement travel policies that protect children and ensure their business travelers are trained on the issue. When a company contracts with a travel supplier on a large scale, they can influence the supplier to get involved through Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and contracts. Corporate travel managers are more comfortable knowing their business travelers are safer when they travel and the policy gives them a unique opportunity to weave corporate social responsibility into their work.
But we do not stop there. We understand that companies want to be directly involved in supporting survivors so we developed an interactive corporate employee engagement program. These programs open with a speaker from ECPAT-USA giving an overview of human trafficking, a representative explaining why it is important to their company, and often end with a reflective networking discussion. Event planners gather products before the sessions—from hair elastics to razors—and employees pack them into individual backpacks. Each backpack includes a note of encouragement and support for survivors, handwritten by participants. ECPAT-USA Packing Sessions help make survivors’ lives a bit easier by giving them backpacks full of hygiene and care products. All bags are donated directly to local service providers.
Our mission at ECPAT-USA is to create a world where no child is bought, sold, or used for sex. This compelling mission touches hearts, but the scope of the problem can be stunting. We give companies very specific and measurable goals so they can pass those on to different departments. When we see success, we celebrate together and would love for your company and employees to get involved.
This post was originally published on The Conference Board