Meeting Mentor Magazine

January 2022

Combating Human Sex Trafficking:
Meeting Professionals Can Make a Big Difference

The statistics are chilling:
• At least 100,000 children (under the age of 18) in the U.S. are commercially sexually exploited.
• As many as 300,000 children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation, and many thousands are trafficked into the U.S. each year for sex and labor.
• Children as young as 12 years old are trafficked for sexual exploitation. (Source: ECPAT-USA)

While “awareness of this problem in the hospitality industry has grown exponentially over the past few years, there is still more that can be done,” said Brenda Schultz, director, responsible business, Americas, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. The company, with 1,350 hotels in 105 countries, is a founding member of the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking and is among many companies and organizations that have signed onto the internationally accepted guidelines in the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct.

What can meeting professionals do to fight human trafficking? Make it an important issue in site decision-making, said Michelle Guelbart, MSW, director of private sector engagement, ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), which is part of the ECPAT International network. It focuses solely on ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children at its source.
Ask potential venue sites:
• Do you have a human trafficking policy?
• Have you signed the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct?
• Do you include anti-trafficking language in your supplier contracts?
• Do you have employee training and other initiatives to raise awareness or funds to combat human trafficking?

It’s very important for meeting professionals to include specific language in their requests for proposal (see and identify how much weight they will give to those answers in the decision-making process. In 2014, ECPAT-USA made meeting professionals and travel trade associations a major focus, “getting the message out in a big way” through materials and education, Guelbart noted. “More meeting professionals are realizing that they can make a huge impact by talking with their suppliers and training their own people to report trafficking.”

The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., which comprises 292 independent leagues, was already on board. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” said Susan Danish, executive director. “Most of the victims are women and girls, so the issue resonates with our league members.”

As AJLI plans three major conferences each year, its meeting management team talks with staff at sites under consideration to understand what they are doing to educate and inform employees about human trafficking. “We make sure hotels we choose to work with are aware of and demonstrate an interest in the issue,” noted Danish. Some have adopted the ECPAT Code of Conduct, while others have “robust programs of their own.”

“In conversations with meeting planners,” added Laurie Dodge, AJLI director of marketing and development, what’s important is “the ability of hotel staff to recognize that trafficking is going on and report it. Many people don’t know what’s happening in their own communities. It’s an issue that’s hiding in plain sight.” Many Junior Leagues and Junior League State Public Affairs Committees are leading awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts for legislative initiatives in their home states and on the federal level.

Carlson Rezidor attacks the issue of human trafficking from several angles, and encourages other hoteliers to do the same:
— Its Employee Code of Business Conduct and Ethics clearly states the company’s position.
— It trains employees to observe and report suspicious activity, and the topic is part of annual ethics training.
— It engages suppliers by adding anti-trafficking language to its Supplier Code of Conduct and Supplier contracts.
— It works with government and community leaders on legislation that supports victims of sex trafficking by providing housing and job skills.
— Corporate grants are targeted towards combatting human trafficking and workforce development, “which often go hand in hand,” said Schultz.

Carlson Rezidor is also part of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s cross-industry collaboration to combat human trafficking. AH&LA encourages lodging properties across the country to review their current procedures on the prevention of human trafficking, Schultz pointed out, and offers suggestions to further their commitment. Among the newest resources is an online course developed by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, “The Role of Hospitality in Preventing and Reacting to Child Trafficking.” — Maxine Golding

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