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How The Pandemic Affected Human Trafficking, And How You Can Help

July 28, 2022


By Yvonne Chen
Director of Private Sector Engagement for ECPAT USA

Walk through any airport or drive past any hotel, and it’s easy to see that travel is back in full swing. But with that comes an unfortunate truth: human trafficking continues to be one of the greatest issues the travel industry faces.

Many may assume that during the height of the pandemic, human trafficking decreased. But, research has shown that in times of crisis, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, trafficking and exploitation increased dramatically. While it felt like everything around us was changing, the risks to children remained.

Luckily, there are many ways travel professionals and business travelers can prevent and combat human trafficking. As you pack for your next convention or business trip, it’s important to remember that you have a unique opportunity to prevent exploitation at all stages of your trip.

First, it is imperative that a company include a basic policy against human trafficking in its employee handbook. Beyond that, companies should also consider how these policies and values can be communicated externally. For example, when booking or during the RFP process, you can include a clause in any contract that informs partners about the company’s anti-human trafficking and child exploitation policies and sets a zero-tolerance tone for suppliers.

When traveling, make sure to take a minute and notice the things around you. When we’re rushing to the airport or running to catch a connecting flight, we’re often in our world and miss the opportunity to spot a potential sign of human trafficking.

It’s important to note that trafficking indicators often overlap and that encountering any one of them isn’t necessarily proof of exploitation. Human trafficking often occurs within a cycle of abuse and control, so you should look for signs of a controlling interaction. It could be a gesture or look from the trafficker that provokes fear. You may hear threats or insults. You might also see signs of physical abuse. Our anti-trafficking training for travel professionals, available for free on our site, includes more information about potential indicators of exploitation.

If you see an instance that you suspect may be trafficking, do not intervene directly. Doing so may end up causing more harm than good. The best thing you can do is report the incident, with as many details as you can recall, to a manager, security guard, or national hotline. (In the U.S., you can reach the National Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.)

Additionally, if your company is committed to taking a leadership role in ending trafficking, our program, The Code, is regarded as the gold standard for socially responsible businesses. The Code gives companies the information, tools, and support they need to ensure the prevention of child sexual exploitation and trafficking as a top priority. The Code has been adopted by leading companies in various industries throughout the U.S. and globally, including CWT.

As a longstanding partner of those in the travel and tourism sector, ECPAT-USA is excited to have the opportunity to once again meet with industry leaders in person and work with professionals to adapt our resources to the changing landscape of the industry. Together, we can protect all children from human trafficking and exploitation.

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