Human trafficking is an ongoing problem around the world and in the United States, but the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to help stop it.
Update 2:30 p.m. ET, 11 June 2018: As part of its initiative to raise awareness of and prevent human trafficking, AAHOA, in partnership with Polaris, launched an online training that is available to all AAHOA members and their employees at no cost. AAHOA's Human Trafficking Awareness Training helps participants understand what constitutes trafficking, how to identify its signs, and what resources are available if they suspect a trafficking incident at their property. By making the training available to its 18,000 members and the over 600,000 workers they employ, AAHOA is using its reach as an association to raise awareness of human trafficking and help its members potentially save lives. To learn more or to sign up for the training, please visit http://www.aahoa.com/htat.
Hoteliers play a vital part in every community.
They are often the first to welcome guests and to provide them with the hospitality and comfort that often sets the foundation for one’s visit. They are job creators, and a job in the hospitality industry can often turn into a career as opportunities for advancement are abundant for those willing to work hard. Over the past few years, thanks to educational outreach on many fronts, hoteliers are assuming a critical role in making their communities safer by taking the lead in the fight against human trafficking.
Exploiters prey upon the most vulnerable in society—often women, children and immigrants—as they use coercion, drug addiction, manipulation, threats of deportation and a multitude of other tactics to control their victims. Human trafficking is a highly underreported crime, but estimates by Polaris, a global leader in the fight to end human trafficking, suggest that 40.3 million people are in modern slavery around the world. In the United States, hoteliers are most likely to encounter exploiters trafficking victims in commercial sex and forced labor. There is a moral imperative to prevent this crime and help victims, and hoteliers are uniquely positioned to do so—but only if they know to look for the signs.
The inherent anonymity and privacy of the hotel industry makes it a regrettably attractive target for traffickers. To the untrained eye, traffickers and their victims can blend in with a frequently changing clientele and go undetected.
Proper education can help hoteliers and their employees assist victims, protect their property and their guests and erase this scourge of modern-day slavery from our society.
Organizations such as Polaris and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) as well as federal law enforcement, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, are at the forefront of promoting education and awareness of human trafficking, assisting victims and helping businesses and local law enforcement forge strategic partnerships to combat this problem.
Through national programs and brand initiatives, hoteliers and their employees are getting equipped with the tools and training to identify and prevent human trafficking.
It can be a difficult topic to address. Illustrating the signs of sex and labor trafficking and explaining how its perpetrators operate in hotels can be uncomfortable, but it is of vital importance in assisting victims and protecting guests, employees and a business’ reputation.
The training offered by the above-mentioned organizations can help hoteliers identify red flags, perform their due diligence and, potentially, help victims escape the nightmare of modern slavery. A hotelier might own several properties, so ensuring that staff from housekeepers to the front desk are trained to identify key indicators that are often found in sex or labor trafficking is critical.
While a lot of education and training goes into identifying and fighting sex trafficking, labor trafficking is also a significant problem that hoteliers can address. Identifying labor trafficking victims presents certain challenges because it is present at several points in the labor supply chain. Hoteliers who educate themselves about the practices traffickers employ can protect their workers and their businesses. Victims of forced labor are not necessarily guests at a hotel; unbeknownst to a hotelier, they may even be performing work for the hotel as subcontractors
The tools exploiters use to control their victims do not necessarily present themselves—debt bondage, the withholding of documents such as passports or even the withholding of wages can be difficult to spot. A language barrier can compound the efficacy of these tactics as victims might not be able to communicate their plight or even be aware that they are being subjected to trafficking. Requesting supply chain transparency, being a conscientious consumer and understanding how workers can be exploited by recruiters and labor brokers can assist hoteliers and their employees identify the signs of labor trafficking.
As hoteliers take the important steps to educate themselves and their employees about human trafficking, they should simultaneously engage with law enforcement as well as lawmakers to make them aware of their efforts. No hotelier wants their properties to be known as “that hotel” in town. Letting law enforcement and legislators know they have a partner in combating human trafficking fosters a collaborative and productive relationship that can improve public safety, help trafficking victims and limit liability for hotel employees, the owners and the brands.
Hoteliers know their industry best, and if they are educated about how to prevent human trafficking and take the steps necessary to do so, they can work with their elected officials to ensure that any laws and regulations designed to address human trafficking are constructive and in line with the steps industry is taking.
The lodging industry is playing an increasingly important role in the fight against human trafficking. By making one’s properties inhospitable to this crime, hoteliers not only disrupt the individuals and criminal networks responsible for so much human suffering, but also may save lives in the process.
Chip Rogers is the president and CEO of AAHOA, which has more than 17,000 members who own nearly one in every two hotels in the country.
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