Intro by: Aoife Delaney, CIS, Director of Marketing & Sales, DMC Network

One of the most eye-opening topics for me over the last three years has been Human Trafficking. I knew a little, but, in all honesty, until ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) became a strategic priority for SITE in 2015, I did not realise the direct correlation between human trafficking and the meetings and events industry.

The information surrounding this issue is startling and frightening.  There are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.  Of this group, 26% of these victims are children and 55% are women and girls.  The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry worldwide.

With the right education and action plan, this is an epidemic where we, as meetings and events professionals, can make a significant impact. And this is where Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking (MPHAT), a volunteer organisation based in Toronto, Canada comes into play.

In the following article, Andrea Boulden, a corporate meeting planner for TD Wealth and volunteer at MPHAT, shares what this incredible organisation is doing to educate and empower our industry.

Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking

Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking

Perhaps you have been hearing the buzz about Human Trafficking lately and how it is becoming a hot topic in the events industry, or maybe this is the first you are hearing about it (and you aren’t alone). Either way, you might be wondering what this has to do with the meetings YOU are planning or, if you work in a hotel, you might be thinking that it surely isn’t happening in YOUR hotel.

Human Trafficking does affect event planners and ALL hotels. The sooner we learn about it, the sooner we can make a difference and rescue these mainly local girls, ages 12-22 who are being forced into the sex trade. Last April, I was asking myself the same questions when I heard about Human Trafficking. I wondered how it was related to the work that I do as a Manager of an Event team at TD Wealth. I attended an information session and, by the end, had joined the committee and have a new focus on what is really important in the work that I do.

Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking (MPAHT) is a Toronto-based organisation working to create awareness and dispel the myths surrounding human trafficking in the Canadian events industry. Focusing on collaboration and education, we are opening the conversation on human trafficking that is taking place at our events and through allied partners including hotels and airlines. We work with planning professionals contracting venues and adjunct event suppliers to ask if they are aware of human trafficking in our industry; are they able to identify human trafficking in their workplace; do they have training programs in place for employees and front-line staff; do they have corporate protocols to safely identify and report human trafficking to the proper authorities.

Since its inception in 2017, Sandy Biback, founder of MPAHT, has provided educational sessions on human trafficking to over 350 event professionals at Incentiveworks, Professional Convention Management Association Canadian Innovation Conference (PCMA CIC), Ryerson University Hospitality and Tourism Management Program and George Brown College School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Sandy is an award-winning event planner and teacher and a pioneer in event management curriculum in North America.

The ultimate aim for our volunteer-based organization is to provide awareness and resources for our industry at large. We hope that, one day, human trafficking will be a story of the past, but until then we want to empower industry professionals to be able to make a difference in their environment and in doing so, help save victims of this crime. As worldwide awareness of human trafficking becomes more prevalent, we anticipate that professionals will expect their workplaces and business suppliers to adhere to ethical codes of conduct, similar to green environment programs, and that human trafficking will not be allowed to flourish in our industry, creating a new business event standard.

The majority of people believe that Human Trafficking is something that involves predominately international victims. The reality is that Human Trafficking is going on right in our own backyards. It is a local problem in all communities across Canada. In Toronto, 98% of human trafficking cases were identified as DOMESTIC for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking victims are mainly female, ages 12-22 and they are most often introduced to the sex trade at age 14. They are recruited online, at parties, malls, group homes and at school. Traffickers recruit from all different social economic levels – they are known to find girls at private schools as well. Victims are often vulnerable due to low self-esteem, poverty, mental health issues, previous trauma, family instability, drug and/or alcohol issues. The traffickers are likely to be male (but some are female), age 19-32, 50% are involved in street gangs. Each trafficker typically has 10-15 girls in his “stable” at a time – each girl worth 250k per year.

Here are some simple things event professionals can watch for and do to help stop human trafficking:

What we can all watch for?

  • Victim not in control of documents
  • Little or no luggage
  • Physically/verbally led by trafficker
  • Trafficker speaks for victim
  • Pays for hotel in cash
  • Inappropriately dressed
  • Room with people coming going at regular intervals
  • Loud noises/fighting/violence
  • On transportation, victim not allowed to go to bathroom on own

What can hotels and suppliers do?

  • Train ALL employees
  • Create a chain of command in your organization
  • Be open to discussions with planners
  • Work to post signs for victims to contact a hotline
  • Be alert
  • DO NOT approach the victim or trafficker
  • Add TraffickCam app to your phone
  • Continue to learn and take action

What can Meeting Planners do?

  • Open the conversation before going to RFP
  • Add suitable RFP questions
  • Be aware onsite & learn what chain of reporting is
  • Add TraffickCam app to your phone
  • Be alert
  • DO NOT approach victim or trafficker
  • Continue to learn and take action

Bio Aoife Delaney: Aoife Delaney, CIS, is Director of Marketing and Sales at DMC Network and a member of the SITE International Board of Directors.

Bio Andrea Boulden: Andrea Boulden has been working in corporate meeting planning for over 20 years. She has spent the last three years in Employee Experience at TD Wealth managing a team of eight event professionals. Andrea is a member of the Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking committee working to create awareness of this important issue in our industry. As a contributor for Corporate Meetings Network, her articles focus on how to incorporate the lens of diversity and inclusion into how we plan events. She feels that event planners have an opportunity to really bring this strategic priority to life by being proactive, thinking of all participants’ unique requirements and being open to making accommodations.