Social Funds recently published a two-part article on corporate responsibility for fighting human trafficking and forced labor, especially commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Reporter Robert Kropp writes that corporations have an important role to play in the prevention of child sex tourism, but American companies appear reluctant to act: of 623 global signatories of a Code of Conduct for Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, only 5 are American.
The World Trade in People
Globalization has spurred the growth of international human trafficking and CSEC. According to International Labor Organization estimates, the global sex industry is worth $28 billion annually. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) estimates that approximately 2.5 million people are trafficked annually. Of those trafficked, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) finds that approximately 1.2 million are children. According to the UN, 30% of women and children trafficked each year are from Asia.
This month, the US Department of State released a report that finds that the global economic crisis is exacerbating the international demand for human trafficking.
To fight the global trade in people, both public and private organizations must act. Governments must protect their citizens, but human trafficking is a profit-seeking enterprise that depends on legitimate tourism-related businesses. While some such firms have developed promising initiatives, real progress depends on pressure from citizens and investors.
Government Part of the Problem, and the Solution
The rights of the child are institutionalized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 34 specifically compels states to protect children from "all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse," but these rights are too frequently violated for economic gain.
Some national governments have announced initiatives to mitigate the risks of human trafficking. In May 2009, the Chinese government announced efforts to develop a DNA database for use as a tool to trace missing children. Human trafficking has thrived in China due to cultural gender bias and a government-imposed one-child policy. Both poverty and the imbalanced ratio of men to women in rural areas have contributed to this problem.
Governments can also better regulate citizenship and legal standing. Burkina Faso announced an initiative to prevent further trafficking in children in May 2009, with a $5 million plan to provide free birth certificates to five million people. Almost 1 in 3 Burkinabe children lack proof of identity and age, leaving them more vulnerable to kidnapping and slavery.
Defining the Role of Business
Corporations – especially those involved with travel and tourism – play a pivotal role in resisting, reporting and educating the public about the practice of human trafficking. Globe-spanning human trafficking would be impossible without anonymous transportation, venues, and access to funds. And yet, the global business community has not fully defined what responsible firms should do to protect human rights.
In May 2009, the UN proposed guidelines for a "protect, respect, remedy" stakeholder framework for human rights. The framework, based on a 2008 report, first calls for governments to protect against human rights abuses within its jurisdiction. Secondly, the framework recognizes the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and avoid complicity in abuse. The third part of the framework calls on companies to provide access to remedy, particularly in places where judicial and non-judicial mechanisms are underdeveloped, by instituting grievance processes.
The Social Funds report indicates that European airlines and hotels have been more proactive to educate customers about child sex tourism. In April 2009, the Vienna Hilton announced a partnership with UNGIFT aimed at victim support and rehabilitation. The hotel proposed to hire a victim of human trafficking and present the results to the business community, and to train existing staff on telltale signs of trafficking.
Investors Act to Change American Firms' Approach
Robert Kropp also notes that American airline and hotel companies have been far more resistant to incorporating sex trafficking awareness into their customer outreach. To the extent that American companies have actively fought human trafficking, they've responded to pressure from shareholder advocates. For example, hotelier Marriott addressed human trafficking in its human rights policy after a shareholder resolution drew attention to a specific incident at a Marriott hotel.
Investors' efforts have also led to the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography, which monitors the movement of funds and closes payment accounts that are linked to child pornography. FCAP has also assisted with the development of corporate anti-trafficking policies, as in the case of Marriott.
Corporations Can Speak Louder than Governments
Poor publicity helped spur Marriott to fight human trafficking, but such motivation cannot be taken for granted. ECPAT, a network of organizations and individuals working to eliminate CSEC, argues that the general public is not broadly aware that sex tourism is illegal in every nation; that many countries have extraterritorial legislation allowing them to prosecute nationals for acts with children outside a country's borders; and that procedures are in place to report inappropriate actions.
Companies can play a proactive role in changing public perceptions. For example, MTV's EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign has worked with USAID to raise awareness about the seriousness of human trafficking in Asia. The anime film "Intersection," which has an anti-trafficking message, was produced in Thai, Mandarin and English and shown on MTV's Southeast Asia channels.
Perhaps this is the most distinctive contribution that business can make to the fight against human trafficking. Firms cannot make laws, but they can reach audiences that know little about UN resolutions or organizational initiatives. By stimulating public disquiet about this shadow economy, corporations can help build a mandate for its exposure, and elimination.