In the early morning hours in one of our hotels in New Orleans last March, a safety and security associate at the hotel noticed a 12-year-old boy in the company of two men buying snacks. The associate overheard one man say to the other, “I may take this one home.” Trained to notice signs of human trafficking, the associate thought the situation didn’t look right to her, and the overheard statement was an alarm bell. Following her training, she alerted her supervisor, and they called the police.
When the police arrived and questioned the men and the little boy, they confirmed our associate’s suspicions. Things were definitely not right. The young boy had been missing for three days. Thanks to the quick actions of the associate, this story has a good ending.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Last year, over 40 million people worldwide were trapped in some form of slavery, according to the International Labor Organization. This is a staggering number, equal to the entire state of California. Most of them are women and children. They can end up as forced laborers, victims of sex trafficking, or worse.
At $150 billion a year, human trafficking is one of the largest global criminal enterprises.
Here in the U.S., more than 4,400 sex trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center last year alone. Not surprisingly, there is much more that goes unreported.
This is a horrifying daily tragedy that no one can afford to ignore — and the hospitality and tourism industry has a unique opportunity to do something about it.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it last November, "Slavery and other such egregious abuses of human rights have no place in the 21st century.”
I could not agree more.
It is an unfortunate reality that traffickers sometimes use hotels to exploit victims and commit their crimes. But rather than wish it were otherwise, we decided to make our 6,000-plus properties worldwide part of the solution.
Several years ago, we teamed up with End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, or ECPAT-USA, a non-profit policy organization that focuses on ending the sexual exploitation of children, and Polaris, a non-profit that works to fight human trafficking, both leaders in the fight against human trafficking, to develop a comprehensive training program for our hotel staff.
In January, we made human trafficking training mandatory for all associates, and developed training tailored to the specific roles on our properties. Over 225,000 of our associates completed the training this past year, and we’re on our way to our goal of 100%.
The objective of the program is simple. We want the associates in our hotels to be aware of the scale of human trafficking, our commitment to stopping it, to learn the many indicators or unusual behaviors of traffickers, and to report suspicions to management, who in turn, alert local authorities.
To make the training program more readily available, we teamed up with the American Hotel & Lodging Association to make it accessible to all of its members. The training was translated into 15 languages, so it can be used more effectively worldwide.
Now Marriott is taking the next step to enhance its partnership with ECPAT-USA by signing ECPAT's Code, which requires organizations to take steps to fight the exploitation of children, including establishing policies and procedures to address trafficking and committing to train employees to recognize the signs.
Though Marriott has been working with ECPAT since 2011, we felt it was time to deepen our commitment to fighting human trafficking for many reasons. The fact is that human trafficking is an urgent issue that is not going away. As a global hospitality company, with nearly 700,000 people wearing a Marriott badge around the world, we can create a force for good in thousands of communities. By elevating the fight against human trafficking, we are not just standing up for the most vulnerable, we are also protecting our associates and customers, as well as our company’s reputation.
David Rodriguez, Marriott International’s Global Chief Human Resources Officer, signed the ECPAT Code at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol that also featured remarks by Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland.
We are immensely proud to join the global network of hotels, airlines, car rental and ride sharing companies, and others involved in the travel and tourism industry around the world that have decided to take a stand against human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Trained on the signs of human trafficking and empowered to say something if they see something, our associates are passionate about making a difference in this fight.
And the training is working. The story from New Orleans ends the way it does because our associate knew what to do.
I know that putting an end to modern slavery is an enormous task that can’t be accomplished by one person or even one company; however, I’ve also seen the progress and positive impact that can be achieved in a short period of time through partnership and collaboration. Let’s do more by working together.