How Workplaces Can Fight Human Trafficking

 

By Stephenie Overman September 13, 2019
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​Companies can combat modern-day slavery by creating an environment hostile to human traffickers. That means educating employees about how to recognize trafficking and how to properly intervene in suspected cases.

Human trafficking is the act of compelling a person to engage in sexual acts or forced labor. The number of cases reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline jumped by 25 percent in 2018 from 2017, according to the anti-trafficking organization Polaris. Nearly 11,000 cases of trafficking were reported in 2018—the highest amount in a single year since Polaris began operating the hotline in 2007.

Many cases go unreported, and law enforcement can't fight trafficking alone, said Bill Woolf, executive director of the Just Ask Prevention Project and a former police officer. "We want to create a safety net in the community. It's safeguarding the entire community if traffickers know that we are creating an inhospitable environment." 

The Just Ask Prevention Project, based in Fauquier County, Va., provides training to teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers, health care professionals, transportation and hospitality workers, and student and parent groups, Woolf said.

The organization also has begun reaching out to companies that employ workers who visit customers' offices and homes, such as electricians and repair people. Just Ask provides materials in Spanish, German, Dutch and French as well as English.

According to AAHOA, the world's largest hotel owners' association, at least 38 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require some public agencies and private businesses to train their staff to recognize, report and respond to suspected human-trafficking.   

The first thing Just Ask Prevention Project trainers do when teaming up with a company is have a targeted conversation with HR department members, Woolf said. "It's important to customize training for a company because one size doesn't fit all. We review [the training] with them, because there may be something they are not comfortable with or something they want to build in. I don't promote standardized training. It may not give the right protocols."

Even companies that are not in law, hospitality, transportation or child care are providing guidance about human trafficking, Woolf added. "From an HR perspective, it's helping working parents understand how they can protect their children. It makes for more-productive employees" because it can give them some peace of mind.

This spring, shuttle services provider First Transit Inc. began training its 12,000 employees, including dispatchers and management staff, in partnership with Truckers Against Trafficking.

Part of Truckers Against Trafficking's outreach is called Busing on the Lookout, a program for commercial and school bus drivers. "That's a good fit for us," said Paul Meredith, senior director of safety for First Transit.

"We already teach our drivers: If you see something, say something," Meredith said. "We use their training material and supplement it with contacts on websites. The training material is designed for all employees; it shows things to look for and how to intervene."

To reach all employees, "we have a good employee portal that provides input. We just launched our employee app," he said.

UPS joined forces with Truckers Against Trafficking in 2016 and has since expanded training to all the company's U.S. driving operations, including delivery providers and over-the-road semi-tractor trailer drivers. The company reported that it has reached more than 97,000 UPS drivers and supervisors.

UPS also partners with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign to develop anti-human trafficking education for the company's pilots and airline crew members.

Marriott International launched a mandatory trafficking awareness training program for hotel and resort staff in 2017, as part of the company's sustainability and social impact platform, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction. As of January, the company had trained 500,000 hotel workers.

Employees at smaller organizations also are learning to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking.

The 105 employees of the Warrenton Aquatic and Recreation Facility received instruction from the Just Ask Prevention Project, according to Margaret Rice, director of parks and recreation for the Virginia town of about 10,000 people.

The recreation center is an important location for such training, Rice said, because "a lot of times, when you're talking about teenagers, they don't open up to the parents. But in another setting, they may. They develop relationships with staff over time.

"I think the whole community was surprised" to learn that trafficking is as prevalent as it is, she said. "During the first training, someone recognized signs and Bill [Woolf] was able to get them some help."

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