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13.08: Human Trafficking Issues

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    Human Trafficking

    This section was written by Veda Ward.

    A Brief Explanation of Human Trafficking

    According to the Office of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide, including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. 

    Beyond the magnitude of this issue is the perception by many that human trafficking is an elusive dimension of an industry characterized by frequent staff changes, part-time employment, and diverse settings that may have many unmonitored spaces; bathrooms, pool areas, changing rooms, and so forth.

    In a 2019 brief, the US Department of State asserted that “human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes on Earth. Right now traffickers are robbing a staggering 24.9 million people of their freedom and basic human dignity, roughly three times the population of New York City.

    Both public and private systems and institutions are negatively impacted by even the inference that trafficking may be connected with a site or venue.  In current times, human trafficking is also presumed to be linked to smuggling, immigration, drug trafficking, and prostitution.  As is sometimes the case, those trafficked are used to smuggle drugs or introduced to drug dependency.

    While many would imagine human trafficking to be predominantly female, due to the need for low-cost labor in many industries, there is much evidence that males comprise a large percentage of those trafficked, but perhaps not for sexual exploitation. Carefully examine the inset quote below to challenge your own presumptions,’

    “While it is indisputable that the vast majority of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation are female (likely around 98 percent, according to the International Labour Organization), it is not true that women and girls constitute the vast majority of all human trafficking victims globally. The same source approximates that 42 percent of victims of state-imposed labor exploitation are male. That number increases to 60 percent when considering labor exploitation in private economies. When you add sex trafficking data, this does mean that more of the nearly 21 million victims worldwide are female than male. Nevertheless, the difference is not so disparate as to merit neglecting the men and boys involved”. (Greve 2014)

    human trafficking informational poster.jpg

    Poster by US Dept of Homeland Security Blue Campaign is in the Public Domain

    Human Trafficking in Hospitality 

    Which aspects of the hospitality industry may be most likely to tap into this source of labor, whether intentionally, or not?  Why? How likely might you be to work with someone who has been trafficked, whether in the United States or globally?

    Examination and consideration of human trafficking are not new in the hospitality industry, yet it is not the most enticing topic for those exploring the industry as a possible career focus.  Interestingly, the phenomenon of human trafficking crosses industry sectors - parks and recreation, travel and tourism, hotels and resorts, restaurants, gaming, and spas.  In many cases, it is not difficult to identify the reasons these industries are so susceptible to trafficking.

    Research, including empirical studies, has been conducted on the prevalence and patterns of human trafficking, particularly in hotels. Parakavas & Brooks (2018) and Kim (2018) concluded that hotels could implement an intervention plan to reduce, and eventually prevent human trafficking.  They recommend specific steps included in a “toolkit”  that increases awareness, confidence, and effectiveness among hotel staff when trafficking is suspected and intervention is required.  Alternatively, Mest (2018) offered basic protocols that could be adapted to industry sectors, including; (1) create a checklist, (2) train frequently, (3) form a relationship with law enforcement, (4) watch for warning signs, and; (5) take action.  These basic criteria are familiar strategies adopted by good leaders and managers when confronting threats to achieving their bottom line or meeting organizational goals.

    There is general consensus regarding reasons for the increase of human trafficking in the midst of the hospitality, tourism, parks, and recreation industry. Among the top is recognition and respect for the privacy of guests, customers, or participants.  In addition, the ability to register for guest services, events, and experiences virtually/online has decreased the direct association between documentation and an actual person.  Requests for privacy, quiet, and isolation may be honored with guests located in remote areas of a hotel or campground.  It is also rare to question the relationships of guests and visitors and, ironically, some behaviors that may imply an individual may be trafficked, are also common among those who are shy, in a new environment, speak a different language than those around them, or are simply fatigued.

    Career specializations within the hospitality industry that require awareness of, and the ability to effectively respond to trafficking, are not limited. Everyone employed in the industry should be informed and do their part. However, of increasing focus are those working in transportation; airlines, rail, urban transit, borders, and other corridors through parks, forests, and agricultural lands.

    As a result, the possibility of inadvertently constructing an environment that supports individual instances or networks of human trafficking has to be tackled at the core of the industry from real estate acquisition, master plan, and site development, to construction, hiring, training, and supervision.  It is essential that the entire scope of the hospitality industry be viewed as an interconnected system.  For example, consider the following scenario.

    An adult who has been seen off and on hanging out around the playground shows up with a child seemingly unknown to staff or community members.  The same adult later comes to a nearby restaurant, and while servers recognize the adult, they have never seen him with the child before.  The child is clearly hungry, but very quiet and does not make eye contact with the server.  The two finish the snack, leave the restaurant, and head across the parking lot to a small motel.  Upon entering the hotel, the adult holds the child’s hand throughout the registration process. Front desk staff ask the child’s name, try to get the child to share their name, and even ask if it is okay for the child to have an apple from the basket on the counter.  The child never makes eye contact and seems to want the adult to release their hand. The adult registers for one night, pays cash, and explains that due to a rolling blackout, there is no electricity back at their apartment.  Even though there will be school the next day, the front desk personnel do not see a backpack, notebook, or any toys with the child.  The adult requests a room far from the elevator and noisy ice and beverage station so the child can get a good night’s rest in this strange environment. The next morning the staff observes the adult and child running toward a public light rail stop.

    Does this raise any questions among any of the industry professionals highlighted in this scenario? Does it reinforce the importance of parks, recreation, travel, and hospitality employees viewing themselves as part of a broader network?

    Career Paths

    Relevant career areas focusing on the rampant growth of human trafficking might include security officers, as well as the development of enhanced interagency surveillance systems. Community service liaisons to boards, chambers, and councils might develop a system to share suspicious behavior. Frequent review and analyses of surveillance technology may be uncommon in some settings and might require specific assignments and dedicated staff to identify possible issues. Similarly, more and more hospitality industry employees may be asked to review other types of reports from law enforcement, news, or social media sites, and so forth to be best informed and observant. Innovative techniques for observation and reporting may be integrated into registration systems, whether for youth programs, recreation, activities, booking trips, or receiving a campsite.

    Those preparing for careers in the vast hospitality profession must constantly protect those we serve, as well as the reputation of the industry.


    2019 Trafficking of persons report. US Department of State.

    Greve, A. (2014) Human trafficking: What about the men and boys? Human Trafficking Center.

    Kim, S. Human trafficking and the hoyel industry.:How to prevent it. Business Management. EHL Insights.

    Meat, E. (2018) 5 tips prevent human trafficking in hotels. (2018).

    Paraskevas, A &  Brookes, M.  (March 2018). Human trafficking in hotels: an “invisible” threat for a vulnerable industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 30, 3. Emerald Insight.

    Wallace, D (2019) ICE’s most wanted alleged human trafficker nabbed in Michigan.

    What is human trafficking? Homeland Security. Blue Campaign

    Zillah, A. (2011).Best practices. Department of Commerce.

    13.08: Human Trafficking Issues is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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