From The FieldJennifer 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.

hu·man traf·fick·ing

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.

Jennifer Keltner
Jennifer Keltner of Keltner Travel Consulting

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.


  1. Appreciate you providing detail on the steps everyone can take to impact change. Good for you for taking a stand. Keep leading and others will follow.

  2. For all of you who had the opportunity to attend the GBTA convention in San Diego, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I felt a shift during this conference to recognize how our industry has been used by human traffickers. If you read my first article, you understand how many children are impacted.

    I was thrilled that American Airlines sponsored the 5K run/walk for ECPAT USA and Carlson Wagonlit Travel designed pillows with ECPAT USA for the lounge areas at their party. There also was an impassioned speech by Michelle Guelbart of ECPAT USA and AA global vice president Alison Taylor’s introduction of John Walsh, the force behind the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. John illustrated that anyone can make a difference if they direct their passion toward a lifelong cause.

    I made sure to attend the session “Spotting Sex Trafficking” with Tracie Parker, Deputy Division Director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She shared videos to help shed light on how a trafficker operates. She also shared insight into the roles our government plays in preventing human trafficking. Her session highlighted that it will take a village for us to resolve this horror.

    Then came my session, “Going on the Offensive: What Travel Managers Can Do To Help Stop Human Trafficking?” It was the first time I presented at a GBTA convention. I owe GBTA President Christle Johnson gratitude for advising attendees to catch the on-demand replay.

    My session goals were quite simple. I wanted my fellow industry colleagues to understand that we are all connected to human trafficking. In this world, where we are connected to Kevin Bacon by six degrees of separation, I share that I am two degrees from the President of the United States, one degree from Ashton Kutcher, one degree from a human trafficker and one degree from a victim. Because many of you in our industry know me, understand your connection.

    My call to action for fellow travel managers is that we can be the difference. I want fellow travel managers to get political and advocate for laws protecting others from traffickers. I want corporate travelers to know about the National Human Trafficking Hotline and how they can save a life.

    During the convention I also learned that a missing component for women in travel is actual training on the tactics used by human traffickers to lure unsuspecting women and children into their lair. I will be looking to partner with our industry to provide that much-needed training.

    My attendance at GBTA was about sharing my knowledge, educating myself and finding others that would consider partnering to help end human trafficking. In addition to my target companies, I found a warm reception from Aeromexico, Air New Zealand, AJL International, American Airlines, BCD Travel, Best Western, Crescent Hotels, Delta Airlines, Flowers Hotel Group, Focuspoint, GBTA, Hilltop Holdings, Howe and Hutton, LTD, HRS Global, Jetsuite, Limo Corp, Japan Airlines, Luxe Hotels, Marriott International, Music Express, Nobel House Hotels, Northstar Travel Group, PredictX, Roadmap, Sabre, tClara, Tnooz, TravelBank, TravelCast, TrendMicro, U.S. Sedan Service, United Airlines, WorldAware (formerly IJET) and World Hotels.

    I also look forward to working with my fellow travel managers at AIG, Amgen, BAE Systems, Facebook, Fluor, HP, Ingredion, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, Sony Pictures, Shire, Snapchat, Syneos Health and Universal Music Group.

    Thanks also Jay and David for your support!

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