To many Americans, the concept of slavery might seem like a practice of the past. However, there are more than 20.9 million people currently enslaved in human trafficking globally, including victims of sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude.
This $150 billion criminal industry ranks second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime. Victims of trafficking span across all demographics, and as the number of human trafficking cases reported in the U.S. has increased every year, victims are closer to home than many may realize. While hidden from most in plain sight, victims have been rescued from restaurants, hotels, night clubs, private homes, factories and farms.
Today, many major American companies are lending their knowledge and expertise in the fight against this centuries-old but too often under-the-radar crime.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently hosted an event in Washington that highlighted the steps that several companies have taken to combat human trafficking across the country and around the world. During the forum, the Chamber and DHS also announced a new partnership under the latter’s Blue Campaign to advance the fight.
“Human trafficking obviously is an issue that should be important to all of our organizations, regardless of the size of your company, regardless of what industry you’re in – it really affects everyone,” Ann Beauchesne, senior vice president of the Chamber’s National Security and Emergency Preparedness Department, said at the event. “But it’s an opaque issue that we want to bring into the forefront.”
Added Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president for Labor, Immigration and Employee Benefits, which co-hosted the forum: “The Chamber recognizes that we have to develop good policies in this area… and that is one of the reasons why we’re launching a Human Trafficking Task Force to gather company experts to help us develop model policies and to talk about what companies are doing.”
He continued: “The real building blocks in a campaign like this are the companies.”
Here’s a closer look at what four companies in particular – Uber, UPS, Walmart and Marriott – are already doing to help prevent (and hopefully one day eradicate) human trafficking and ensure that one day slavery in every form is indeed a practice of the past.
Now operating in more than 70 countries, Uber is well positioned to play a role in the fight to stop human trafficking practices across the globe – and the company has stepped up to the challenge in a big way. In March 2016, Uber became the first ride-sharing company to sign a pledge issued by the group ECPAT (Ending Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) to adopt business principles that will help prevent human trafficking.
Since then, the company has partnered with ECPAT, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the McCain Institute to develop education materials that help drivers identify signs of human trafficking and learn what steps to take (and not take) if they suspect a passenger is the victim of or involved in trafficking activity. Uber has also hosted a series of events with drivers, elected officials and local law enforcement agents to further educate its drivers.
“We recognize that Uber drivers are uniquely positioned to play a very important role in ultimately preventing trafficking from occurring,” Lindsay Elin, Head of Community Engagement at Uber, said at the U.S. Chamber and DHS event.
Elin cited a recent incident in Sacramento, California in which an eavesdropping Uber driver began to suspect that two women in his backseat were prostituting a third passenger – a young girl.
He called 911 immediately after dropping off the women at a hotel, and police arrived moments later to stop the operation, arrest the two women and free the 16-year-old victim.
“We look forward to building on our partnerships with these amazing organizations that have been on the frontline… and doing more to engage drives in this conversation in the coming year,” Elin added.
UPS’s involvement with the anti-human trafficking movement began in Atlanta, where the company is headquartered, around the NCAA basketball tournament in 2013. The Georgia Attorney General brought to the attention of company executives that Atlanta ranked among the top cities in the United States for sex trafficking incidents due to the high presence of conventions, sporting events and one of the busiest airports in the world. UPS quickly joined with other Atlanta-based companies to underwrite a See Something, Say Something campaign around the tournament to raise awareness of the problem.
Nicole Clifton, vice president of government affairs at UPS, worked with the Georgia Attorney General’s office on this initiative and described the depth of problem which led UPS to step up. “Studies show that more than $290 million dollars a year is generated in Atlanta due to sex trafficking, which is more money than illegal guns and drugs combined.” More disturbingly, the epidemic affects children at a surprisingly young age. Clifton noted statistics showing “500 minors between the age of 12 and 13 years old are trafficked a month just in Atlanta.”
UPS has since built on the See Something, Say Something campaign with a three-pronged initiative to engage in the fight against human trafficking.
First, the company developed a formal statement that outlined its policy against human trafficking practices so that UPS’s almost 400,000 employees around the world would be aware of its position on and the importance of the issue. Clifton noted, “Employee awareness and engagement is one of the first places we can distill how big of an epidemic human trafficking is not only around the world but also in our local communities.”
Second, UPS has taken steps to educate more than 80,000 drivers, service providers and pilots to recognize the signs of human trafficking and to report concerns to a designated nationwide hotline where experts can intervene. UPS recently announced partnerships with Truckers Against Trafficking and with DHS’s Blue Campaign to develop a customized awareness education to be rolled out in 2017.
Lastly, UPS has placed considerable emphasis on external engagement. Through its nonprofit and community partnerships, such as the company’s relationship with United Way, UPS is working to connect resources to further expand awareness around human trafficking at the local level. The UPS Foundation is supporting The United Way’s Generation Freedom campaign with a $50,000 grant that will be used to educate local United Way agencies and community partners on ways to fight human trafficking and support victims in cities around the US.
Walmart recognizes the challenges that surround issues related to trafficking, especially with regards to supply chain management and forced labor – and the company is taking major steps to address those challenges.
“There is a need for collaborative action,” Sarah Thorn, Senior Director in Walmart’s global government affairs division, said at the event. ”We need everyone working together to try to address the issues in supply chain management and human trafficking. We need governments, civil society, and corporations working together to give workers’ a voice. No one government and no one company can work alone to solve these issues.”
While Walmart has one of the largest private trucking fleets in the world and has also partnered with Truckers Against Trafficking, the company’s primary focus in this area is currently on addressing challenges around global supply chains.
“Supply chain and forced labor issues are really complex – it is very hard to see and identify what is happening to people, especially vulnerable groups of people like migrant workers,” Thorn said, noting that dishonest recruitment methods and corrupt recruitment agents are often the root cause of trafficking in supply chains.
Walmart has joined the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment to look for ways to thwart the practice of migrant workers paying for work. The company has also partnered with the Consumer Goods Forum, which is a group of leading retailers and consumer packaged goods companies who have made a pledge to look at the issues preventing responsible recruitment and to work collectively to encourage ethical recruitment practices.
Thorn also mentioned that there are robust transparency challenges in supply chain management. Walmart is joining forces with NGOs such as International Justice Mission and the Polaris Project to drive transparency into supply chains and implement more effective enforcement tools that harness the power of big data. Thorn noted that these on-the-ground NGOs are helping Walmart discover innovative solutions for even the deepest supply chains.
In addition, Walmart has pledged to work directly with high-risk supply chains including seafood, electronics, produce and apparel to embed intense risk management practices.
“Better awareness, better transparency and working collectively is the only way we will be able to successfully address these issues,” Thorn added. “We need to take the issue out of the shadows and shine a bright light on it so that people have the tools and resources they need to know what to do and how to address human trafficking.”
As one of the world leaders in hospitality and hotel management, Marriott has been particularly vocal about its stance on respecting human rights and its support for anti-human trafficking initiatives. Starting this year, Marriott now requires hotel associates to complete comprehensive human trafficking training as part of the company’s commitment to respect human rights and promote responsible business conduct. To further promote awareness-raising on human trafficking, Marriott is collaborating with the American Hotel and Lodging Association to widely distribute sector-specific training for hotels, including through a new public-private partnership with the State of Connecticut described in this recent press release.
Marriott collaborates with diverse groups to address human trafficking globally and has participated in numerous international events that focus on tackling trafficking in the tourism arena, it has run several campaigns that promote social responsibility and awareness training, and it offers programs that help address the root cause of exploitation while providing rehabilitation opportunities for trafficking survivors through the Youth Career Initiative.
“As governments, law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations address human rights issues, we are aligned with the growing number of corporations that provide their commitment and support to these efforts,” the company explained in their human rights commitment statement, adding, “It is our belief that how one does business is as important as the business one does.”