Is slavery the biggest scourge of the 21st century? A century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 80,000 people are trafficked internationally each year and forced to work off their debt in the sex trade, on industrial plantations and farms, or in your neighborhood massage or nail parlor, according to the United Nations.
Globally, human trafficking is an industry that is estimated to generate $9.5 billion a year, enslaving 27 million people. Transportation hubs like Atlanta, where 2 million people fly in and out every week, play pivotal roles in the global slave trade. Those figures come from WTLC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people escape domestic violence and exploitation by providing tools and resources to build self-esteem and empower independence.
To raise awareness, discuss the challenges and develop potential solutions, Skål International Atlanta, in partnership with Georgia Tech’s Women’s Resource Center and One Voice Atlanta, convened travel and tourism industry representatives from airlines, cruise ships, hotels, meeting planning firms, the media, online travel booking websites, university hospitality departments and tourism agencies at a recent Human Trafficking Symposium.
After a number of presentations, attendees were invited to a roundtable luncheon to discuss obstacles faced and how people can make a difference.
The 3 pillars of the anti-trafficking movement
“For any large problem you address, there should be three pillars you stand on,” one participant said. The group decided that those three pillars should be:
- Addressing the root causes
- Education and raising public awareness
- Prosecution/putting something into law
— SKAL Atlanta (@SKALAtlanta) September 24, 2015
Challenges, solutions, what’s next
In May, Georgia legislators passed the Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law, which provides better protection for victims and harsher punishment for traffickers. There are no penalties for the people and companies that create the demand for slave labor, however. That’s a big challenge. Until those creating demand are punished and root causes addressed, trafficking will continue.
- The Georgia Board of Education has proposals for programs that will teach students in grades K-12 about human trafficking and how children are recruited or kidnapped. “The problem is getting school boards to approve and accept it,” an attendee said.
- “When the state paid to do anti-smoking education, half of the superintendents said they had it stacked up in their cabinets because they had the attitude: ‘I smoke, why would I teach this?’ You have to be prepared as citizens of Georgia to start pushing to get this, because people will say it isn’t relevant or that it doesn’t fit with their views. We have to get the school boards to understand it.”
- Parents also need to be educated about the dangers. In public places, children can be swiped, their clothes changed and hair dyed in a matter of minutes.
The Airline Ambassadors International program trains flight attendants to recognize, report and prevent human trafficking. It’s working on a 24/7 on-demand video library of training films that can be used in other industries.
But it says it needs more support from the airlines and that what’s missing is a seamless integration with local law enforcement so victims can be extracted immediately. Reports can be filed, but the ambassadors cannot do anything on the plane, and law enforcement might not be waiting at the gate when they land.
Signatories of the End Childhood Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) Treaty include Carlson Hotels, Maritz Travel and Delta Air Lines. As part of their commitment to end trafficking, participating groups educate and train employees extensively. Finding hotel spokesmen to speak on the topic still proves difficult because of a pervasive fear that speaking out will target your property as a problem. The result, they say, will be less revenue, not more awareness.
The travel industry should be leading efforts to stop trafficking, those at the luncheon said, taking time to train all employees to recognize, report and prevent trafficking. Some suggested that education extend to all travelers, since enslaved humans might be seated next to them on planes or pass them in bus stations or hotel lobbies.
Here’s a complete record of what was discussed during the Human Trafficking Symposium’s roundtable luncheon.
Human Trafficking and the Tourism Industry: Challenges and Solutions – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
Click here to download a copy of the findings.
Editor’s note: The author is a member of Skål International Atlanta.