Jennifer Keltner has worked for United Airlines, Air New Zealand, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and, most recently, Toyota North America where she managed travel and meeting services for the past 10 years. She is now ready to move on from Toyota and focus on fighting human trafficking. Keltner draws inspiration from personal events. Her brother-in-law left a prominent law firm and moved his wife and four small children to Bolivia to work with International Justice Mission, a non-profit organization focused on eliminating slavery. As part of Keltner’s efforts, she now helps to raise funds for IJM and serves as an advisor to End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA). Her new firm, Keltner Travel Consulting, focuses on this important issue within corporate travel and meetings. In this column, she aims to bring awareness and urges travel managers to take action.
noun: the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. “She is a victim of human trafficking.”
I have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for another corporate travel manager to take the lead on addressing a huge problem that affects all of us: modern day slavery, a.k.a. human trafficking.
It is everywhere.
Unicef states that about 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Three hundred thousand children in the United States are being trafficked. Imagine the whole state of New Mexico enslaved; that represents the number of children trapped in this global supply chain. According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking generates about $150 billion a year.
Drug dealers learned that it is more lucrative to sell a human. While they can sell a drug only once, selling another human can happen over and over again.
About 12 years ago, I saw human trafficking myself in Thailand and did not realize it. I was on a familiarization trip and was taken by bicycle rickshaw to the tourist area. It was the red light district where girls on the street shouted at us, asking if anyone wanted a “happy ending.” I still can remember how uncomfortable I was and how I just looked the other way.
Where is the global demand coming from? One big area is large-scale sporting events. It has been said that the NFL’s Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for human trafficking in the United States. Who spends the money at large-scale sporting events? Zealous football fans? Sadly, as corporations utilize sporting events as a way to increase sales, human traffickers, too, see opportunities at male-dominated events to promote prostitution. Some executives think it’s OK to expense a visit to a gentleman’s club because their clients want to go, or bring a “niece” to an event instead of their wife.
Through the years, many managers may have accepted these behaviors without realizing the implications and the possible connections to human trafficking. It’s time to change acceptable behavior while traveling or entertaining on company business.
In this environment of “me too,” I think there will be a day of reckoning. Let’s call it “Why us?” Companies and government officials are going to come under scrutiny. Human trafficking is an abuse of power. It is the strong preying on the weak. It is suppliers looking the other way. It is corruption, possibly within the highest ranks of a corporation.
The travel industry is used inadvertently. Traffickers use all modes of transportation to get their “product” to their customers or to a destination. They use hotels, which provide great cover for their operations.
Two years ago, I was forwarded an e-mail which highlighted an FBI investigation at a 4.5-star hotel in the Dallas area. Authorities had to slow down the arrests because they ran out of rooms at the hotel to detain people. Among those saved was a 14 year-old girl.
This has been going on for decades but only recently have hotels felt the pressure. Laws are coming out to add financial risk along with reputational risk. In Alabama, a young girl sued a hotel because she believed it knew that she was being trafficked.
If you have been in the industry long enough, or are well-traveled, you should be able to share some examples. If you are new to our industry, just open your eyes and ears. It took me over ten years to realize that I had seen human trafficking.
Many of my fellow travel managers have yet to realize that eradicating human trafficking in our industry needs to start with us. If your company is a founding member of the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking or Freedom Council, you are in a position to make a real difference. You can work within your company to address human trafficking. You can refer employees to your company’s anti-human trafficking statement or code of ethics. You can advise travelers to use your company’s “speak up” line to report concerns about others visiting gentleman’s clubs, watching pornography or soliciting prostitutes. You can ask your hotel partners to remove adult channels from in-room programming. You can audit your suppliers’ training efforts for front-line staff.
You can also attend my session at the upcoming Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego, titled “Going On The Offense: What Can Travel Managers Do To Help Stop Human Trafficking?”
Additional info: According to Guardian Group, federal law allows victims of human trafficking to “bring a civil suit against both traffickers and anyone who financially benefited from his or her victimization and knew or should have known the acts were in violation of the law. … Therefore, if a hotel – through an employee – knowingly rents a room to a trafficker (either a ‘pimp,’ or buyer of sex) for the purpose of a commercial sex act, or should have known that it was renting a room to a trafficker for that purpose, the hotel can be held liable for civil damages to the victim.”
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 was signed into law Oct. 18, 2010, by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and enacted Jan. 1, 2012. It was the first of its kind in the nation. The law requires every retailer and manufacturer that does business in California and generates at least $100 million in annual worldwide gross receipts to disclose an annual statement detailing efforts to eliminate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chains.
Dozens of other states have passed laws to fight human trafficking. In Connecticut, for example, a 2016 law addressed the issue. In conjunction, Connecticut last year established a training program to help hospitality industry workers spot human trafficking. It was developed with Marriott International, ECPAT-USA and anti-slavery group Polaris.
The U.K. Modern Slavery Act 2015 was the first in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st Century.