January is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month, addressing a horrific crime that has in the past few years been placed squarely in the public arena, thanks to the strong support of a growing number of corporations, organizations and advocacy groups. One such company, Marriott International, had executives of several Manhattan properties convene on Jan. 17 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, where they took part in an employee-training session on the issue, followed by a panel discussion with several aid organizations and a trafficking survivor, to discuss progress that has been made in the field.
It's a daunting effort. The International Labour Organization estimates that global human trafficking has become a $150 billion industry worldwide, with more than 40 million people subjected to modern slavery. While there is currently no hard data on the numbers of people trafficked in the United States, Polaris, an organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the U.S., estimates the number of sex and forced-labor victims to be in the hundreds of thousands.
It was one year ago that Marriott announced a partnership with ECPAT-USA, the country's leading anti-child-trafficking policy organization, by signing its Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (aka the Code) and committed to training its entire global workforce on spotting the signs of human trafficking.
Following the Jan. 17 event, Northstar Meetings Group caught up with panel moderator Tu Rinsche, director of social impact for Marriott International and a veteran antitrafficking activist.
What progress has Marriott made in fighting trafficking since partnering with EPCAT-USA?
We have now trained more than 500,000 Marriott associates around the globe. Right here at this Sheraton property, they have trained 92 percent of their staff. But because our goal is to achieve 100 percent training compliance, it is a work in progress, because whenever new staff come onboard, they have to be trained. It's sad, but it's a fact that hotels are being used for this horrible crime.
Has the training resulted in any actual trafficking rescues?
It is amazing. In the first three months after we began training our associates, we had employees at two properties report on things they had witnessed that they found disturbing, which led to us taking two children out of harm's way. It was a huge moment for us, because it shows the training really does work. Our associates can take what they have learned back to their communities, churches and schools and share it. The goal is to make it as obvious as the "If you see something, say something" program that came about after the 9/11 terror attacks.
How was the training developed?
We spent a year collaborating with EPCAT-USA and Polaris, two leading nonprofits that specialize in combatting human trafficking, to develop and test our training program. We wanted something that could be taken in a classroom setting or online. Since then, we have translated it into 16 languages that are the most widely spoken in 130 countries where Marriott operates.
What are some of the key training points?
Instructions are broken down by department. For housekeeping, suspicious behavior could be a particular room asking for lots of towels or clean linens, or that has the Do Not Disturb sign up for long periods. Receptionists are trained to be aware of any guest who pays only cash for their room. For room service, it could be the room that demands a lot of alcohol or food, usually late at night. It's never that one thing that stands out, but a lot of different nuances that stack up. Also, our associates are taught never to approach the person they think might be trafficked, because that could prove disastrous for them. They must first report any potential issue to management, which then determines the next step, such as whether local law enforcement should be brought in.
Some of our associates told us they were having a difficult time remembering the training points, so we created a poster that will be in all our hotels in their working areas. It was a completely employee-led initiative. Over 80 properties submitted artwork, and more than 6,000 employees voted to select the winning poster. When you have that level of employee engagement, you know they are committed to the cause.
Any words of advice for anyone reading this?
Memorize the National Human Trafficking Hotline — (888) 373-7888. I have it on my phone. If you see something that doesn't seem right, call it in. You just might save someone's life.