Minnesota-based Firm Fights International Human Trafficking

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MINNETONKA, Minnesota — The International Labor Organization estimates that as many as one million children are victims of sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion business worldwide, with $15.5 billion coming from industrialized countries. Although evidence is hard to quantify, child trafficking is increasing. Hotel industries are, however, in a position to stand against sexual trafficking.

Carlson, the company that owns Radisson and other hotels around the world, is using its position as a global company to make a difference. With operations in 160 countries, the firm is training its employees to spot trafficking at its hotels, partnering with nonprofits and businesses and implementing ethical codes of conduct. In 2004, Carlson Companies was the first major North American travel company to sign the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct.

Hospitality Industries are Venues for Human Trafficking Exploitation.

The hospitality industry, including airlines and hotels, can be unknowing facilitators of human sex trafficking. Hotels provide a neutral, anonymous environment for the trafficker and the trafficked. Unfortunately, trafficking happens everywhere, though Carlson’s actions against the illicit industry have motivated 950 other companies in the tourism and travel sectors to implement child protection efforts.

“We felt we had the tools and resources to make a difference,” said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former chairman and CEO of Carlson. “As a family-owned business, once we learned of the millions of children who are used for sexual purposes in the travel and tourism industry worldwide, we could not turn away.”

Nelson was awarded the Business Leader’s Award to Fight Human Trafficking at the Luxor International Forum. The award recognized the commitment, creativity and leadership of business leaders who fight modern slavery, including sex trafficking.

Hotel Employees are Trained to Spot Red Flags.

A hotel guest checks in without luggage. They leave shortly after. A child may seem confused or appear helpless, ashamed, nervous or disoriented, may have bruises or have tattoos that reflect ownership, usually will not have any money or identification and does not make eye contact.

These are all red flags that hotel staff are trained to notice. While managers may not see the signs of trafficking, housekeeping and room service employees know when something is not right.

The United States federal law defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Working Together to Put a Stop to Human Sex Trafficking

Carlson has partnered with ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking), the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and Polaris, which runs the national human trafficking hotline. The firm also supports the World Childhood Foundation, which it helped establish with the Queen of Sweden to protect children from trafficking.

Other companies are also participating in anti-trafficking awareness and advocacy efforts. Sabre, a technology company for the travel industry, and Marriott International are launch partners for the “Be a Responsible Traveler” campaign. The initiative is also sponsored by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Marriott will share anti-trafficking messaging with customers and employees through internal and external websites, newsletters, blogs and social media. Sabre supports the campaign with four consumer-facing websites: Travelocity, Lastminute.com, TripCase and GetThere.

“By working together, we can educate travelers and industry players, and begin to eradicate this vicious crime. We can also give hope to its victims,” said Bruce Charendoff, Sabre’s senior vice president, government and external affairs.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 35, 889 signals in 2013, including:

  • 31,945 phone calls
  • 1,488 emails
  • 1,669 online tip forms
  • 787 text messages

These numbers show that people are doing something when they witness or are a party to human trafficking. While the crime persists, the true extent is unknown due to the clandestine nature of the illicit activity. With the hospitality and travel industries on board already, other industries are beginning to train their employees on spotting trafficking.

“Human trafficking affects us all, whether we live in countries of origin, transit or destination,” said Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN. “Preventing and combating it requires a comprehensive international approach. We must act together to stop a crime in our midst that deprives countless victims of their liberty, dignity and human rights.”

Sources: U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, CNN, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, Travel Weekly, ECPAT, Polaris Project, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, UNODC
Photo: Project Steve

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Haley is a BORGEN Magazine writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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