Human trafficking, a form of modern slavery, has grown to become one of the largest social issues facing humanity today. It is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as organized criminal activity in which humans are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor.
Human trafficking is the third-largest international crime industry behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking. It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year.
The U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, one of the primary federal agencies responsible for combating human trafficking, calls it “one of the most heinous crimes” that it investigates.
Across the United States, thousands of men, women and children are trafficked in and out of private homes every day. Many businesses are at risk from human trafficking, including agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other service-related providers.
Unfortunately, hotels, not homes, are more commonly used as staging zones by human traffickers, who use guest rooms as temporary headquarters to house victims. Hotels are preferable to private homes because both perpetrators and victims can be easily relocated at a moment’s notice, leaving few traces of their activities behind.
Last week, 35 people were arrested at seven hotels and motels during a prostitution sting led by Warren, Michigan, police in a human trafficking crackdown.
In Florida, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her office has put the hotel industry on notice, saying: “Look you might not suspect this, but this is going on in your facilities and it's a liability issue and it's also a morality issue.” Rundle said sex traffickers are attracted to South Florida for the same reason tourists visit the area: the weather, the attractions and the diverse population.
Companies, like hotels, can be held liable for human trafficking. According to WTVJ-TV in Miramar, Florida, lawsuits filed in Texas and Pennsylvania allege that corporations benefited from the human trafficking of minors and failed to take reasonable steps to protect victims.
The signs of human trafficking can be very subtle, which is why it is imperative for hotel management and their employees to be properly trained. Given the proper screening techniques, the front desk is one of the best defenses to prevent human trafficking.
Also, with proper training, room attendants can quickly search for telltale signs of trafficking, such as multiple pieces of unmatched luggage, unusual clothing or other items not normally brought into a guest room.
There are a number of other defenses against human trafficking, which is why in a hotel environment it must be an integral part of every organization’s crisis management plan. The plan should include the following elements:
- Executive-level commitment to set the plan in motion
- Protocols to determine what actions will be taken and when
- Establish relationships with federal and local authorities to make swift decisions
- Professional training at all levels
- Periodic review of chain of command and procedures to update as needed
With proper education and training that is specific to human trafficking and part of a larger crisis management plan, hotels can detect this criminal activity early and prevent its rampant spread.
David Trumble is principal of Integrated Crisis Management Solutions, an organization composed of security operatives and communications professionals offering risk assessments, streamlined emergency protocols, management training, customer/media relations and recovery programs.