The numbers are simply staggering. According to the International Labor Organization, there are currently more than 20 million victims of human trafficking globally, roughly 4.5 million of which are forced into sexual exploitation. Even more tragic, children are often the victims of sex trafficking; in fact, the average age of entry into the sex trade for girls is 12 to 14 years old. As hard as it is to imagine, this problem is not relegated to far-off places on the other side of the globe—human trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, is a very real and widespread issue here in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year. In response, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have both passed broad bipartisan legislation this year to help victims and to crack down on perpetrators of this heinous crime.
This progress is important, and government leadership on this issue is paramount. However, it requires more than just a response from government and law enforcement. The private sector needs to be a partner in solving this issue if society is going to make real strides in combating human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. And while many industries need to be engaged in this effort, the hotel industry undoubtedly has a significant role to play. Trafficking networks often rely on legitimate businesses, like hotels, as well as apartment complexes and other commercial and residential properties, to house and sustain their illegal operations. Recognizing this fact, the hotel industry has long been involved in anti-trafficking education and initiatives, and AH&LA has been working to bolster those activities. We’ve worked with our members to raise awareness of human trafficking and provide hotel operators with the tools and resources needed to educate employees on how criminals operate in a hotel and how to identify and report these crimes to the police.
Recently, AH&LA, along with its affiliates—the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute—funded and developed an online training program in partnership with ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). The training program is available for sale to AH&LA members and non-members, and 50 percent of the proceeds go to ECPAT USA to further its efforts against trafficking. AH&LA has also offered webinars on trafficking, which are available online to our members.
In April, AH&LA invited Michele Guelbart, director of private sector engagement at ECPAT USA, to speak at our Legislative Action Summit in Washington, D.C. Guelbart, who addressed an audience of approximately 400 hotel industry representatives, presented information on the scope of the trafficking problem and outlined steps hotels can take to address it.
As part of this ongoing campaign to strengthen the hotel industry’s response to trafficking, AH&LA, with input from across our industry, developed and distributed a set of guidelines, which we believe can help raise awareness and, in turn, further equip and empower the industry to do its part to stop human trafficking.
PRINCIPLES TO COMBAT TRAFFICKING
These guidelines are designed to help hotel companies and individual properties determine how best they can work with their employees to combat the abhorrent practice of human trafficking—specifically, child sex trafficking.
- Educate employees to recognize and report instances of trafficking when perpetrated or attempted in or around hotel properties.
- Establish policies and procedures for reporting instances or suspected instances of trafficking.
- Encourage other companies and parties in the hotel industry to join the fight against trafficking, and collaborate with those companies that have already done so.
- Encourage business partners in the broader travel industry and beyond to educate their employees and take other necessary steps to combat trafficking.
- Work collaboratively with law enforcement and policymakers so that industry and government initiatives can be appropriately and efficiently integrated into a society-wide effort to combat trafficking.
These broad guidelines provide a road map for the hotel industry in taking on the horrors of human
trafficking. Our organization will continue to maintain a sustained and focused effort to address this problem by providing resources and leadership and by seeking new ways of partnering with anti-trafficking organizations, law enforcement, and others on this profoundly important endeavor.
Craig Kalkut is vice president of government affairs at AH&LA.