What Meeting and Hospitality Pros Can Do Now to Combat Human Trafficking

Marriott International, the Events Industry Council and other organizations are increasingly acknowledging and fighting this industry-wide issue. Here's how you can help, too.

What Meeting and Hospitality Pros Can Do Now to Combat Human Trafficking

“If you see something, say something. You could be wrong and that’s OK, or you could be right and save a life.”

That’s the advice Sandy Biback, a Toronto-based event producer, gives to event and hospitality pros on fighting the widespread issue of human trafficking. Biback is the founder of Canadian nonprofit Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking (MPAHT), an all-volunteer team of conference and event planners, hotel sales professionals and audiovisual professionals who present on the issue to hoteliers, planners and hospitality students across the U.S. and Canada.

There are an estimated 40 million victims of human trafficking—which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says “involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act”—around the world, and the issue is far more widespread in the event industry than one might expect. While discussions of trafficking at the Super Bowl have long been drawing headlines, a 2016 study from Carnegie Mellon University’s Auton Lab found that events ranging from festivals to conventions to even business meetings also account for a surge in human trafficking, as perpetrators use the gatherings to find customers as well as victims. 

How Venues Can Help
Naturally, a large portion of these transactions happen in the hotel industry—and properties around the world have been taking quite a few steps to combat it in recent years. On July 30, Marriott International launched an updated version of its human trafficking awareness training, part of the brand’s goal to train all its on-property associates on ways to recognize and respond to the issue by 2025. 

The new training responds to how the world has changed in the five years since the initial training debuted—particularly in the new era of contactless and mobile hotel experiences, which can make it harder to spot the potential signs of human trafficking, notes the brand. Further updates include scenario-based modules, a mobile-friendly design, increased guidance on how to respond and more, all of which were developed in collaboration with survivors of human trafficking.

“As an industry that cares deeply about human rights and the horrible crime of human trafficking, we have a real responsibility to address this issue in a meaningful way,” said Anthony Capuano, Marriott International’s CEO, in a statement. “The updated training empowers a global workforce that stands ready to recognize and respond to human trafficking and allows our company to live up to our core values.”

The training, which so far has been delivered to more than 850,000 Marriott employees, was developed through a collaboration with anti-child trafficking organization ECPAT-USA and with input from Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States. And in early 2022, Marriott will work with ECPAT-USA and the American Hotel and Lodging Association Foundation to make the training available to other hospitality brands.

For her part, Biback is encouraged by the steps hotel chains have been taking; she notes that as recently as a few years ago, properties were hesitant to be publicly associated with her organization because of the stigma involved. That has now changed, she notes, and she encourages hotels and other hospitality workers to continue training staffers to know the signs of a trafficking victim, like minimal luggage, lack of access to travel documents, no return ticket and more. 

“Understand that, yes, it is in your backyard and, yes, it is in all-star hotels,” she says.

The Role Event Planners Can Play
There’s plenty that event planners and producers can do as well; Biback says that every single person on-site at an event plays a role in combating human trafficking. She advises that planners inform all potential partners, vendors and venues of their commitment to fighting human trafficking in the event industry, and encourage them to do the same by asking questions in RFPs and adding zero-tolerance clauses to contracts. “Ask at the very beginning, and open up that conversation early,” she suggests. If a vendor doesn’t already have training policies in place, encourage them to look into it—and have a list of resources ready to send their way. 

One group of planners that’s taking action is the Events Industry Council, a global federation supporting the business event industry, which on July 30 joined ECPAT-USA’s Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, better known as “The Code.” Billed as the world’s first voluntary set of business principles that travel and tourism companies can implement to prevent sexual exploitation and trafficking of children, The Code’s members include PCMA, MPI, Hilton, Maritz Global Events and many more hotel chains, production companies and CVBs. The Code and its members work together to establish policies and procedures, train employees, establish clauses for event contracts and more. 

“By working with The Code and ECPAT we can play our part in finally ending global human trafficking and exploitation,” explains Events Industry Council CEO Amy Calvert about the decision to join. “Given the scope and scale of our industry, we have the ability to be a catalyst for meaningful and lasting change and progress."

Further Resources, Reading and Training

This story was originally published on Connect's sister site, BizBash, here.