Every year, more than 2 billion people around the world take a commercial flight. You might be one of them. If so, the next time you're in line at airport security, consider that your alert observations might just save a life. Look around. Do you notice anything unusual about the other passengers - a woman who doesn't speak or make eye contact with anyone, not even the people she's traveling with? Is someone else carrying her I.D. or boarding pass? Maybe she looks anxious. She could be a victim of human trafficking.
“You have to tell yourself, 'I believe this person could be in trouble,'” urges Letty Ashworth, general manager of global diversity for Delta Air lines. “There are 1-800 numbers you can call in this situation. And it’s OK if you’re wrong. We’d rather you report it than not report it at all.”
Ashworth was on hand at
Human trafficking is defined as the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. The International Labor Organization estimates that almost 21 million people — mostly immigrants, young women and children — are trafficked every year. Some go into forced labor and other forms of servitude, while others are trapped into prostitution.
Global multinational companies like Delta and
Tuesday’s human trafficking panel was part of
“This is not a third world problem,” Franklin noted in kicking off the event. “This literally hits close to home.”
In what comes as a surprise to many, Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the major hubs for trafficking in the U.S. It’s a sprawling, transient and diverse city that’s also home to the world’s largest passenger airport — factors that create conditions prime for trafficking.
“Victims enter on every mode of transportation you can imagine, including planes, trains, buses, cars and even ships,” Delta’s Ashworth said.
Part of the challenge in fighting trafficking is that many people don’t know how endemic it is, said Shipman, citing chocolate and bananas as two examples of products often harvested by forced laborers. “But there are ways to get educated about this,” he stressed.
Shipman explained how trade certification websites and watchdog groups enable consumers to track labor practices associated with common products and commodities. He praised the global coffee industry in particular, for its effort to educate consumers about fair trade coffee. For those who aren’t sure where to start, Shipman mentioned a cell-phone app, Free World, which allows consumers to enter a specific item to find out if indentured laborers were used to produce it.
“It’s important to realize what your dollars support," said Shipman. "You may not be able to change your buying patterns in the short-term, but it may help you to raise the issue with political or community leaders. This affects all of us as individuals, from consumers all the way through businesses, and it’s one of the few human rights challenges that resonates across all parts of our lives.”
Monica Khant, Executive Director of GAIN, spoke next, explaining that, in Georgia, 46 percent of trafficking is related to prostitution, 27 percent to domestic servitude, 10 percent to agriculture case and the remaining 5 percent are trafficked for other labor. As part of the organization's effort to advocate for human trafficking victims, GAIN boasts a network of 200 lawyers who work pro bono to help escaped victims gain immigration status. In 2005, their first year of operation, the group expected 25 cases.
“We got double — 50 cases — and now we’re up to more than 200 annually,” said Khant.
She described how daunting it is for victims to escape or to even consider coming forward. Language barriers and fear of reprisals against relatives back home are key problems, as is a lack of knowledge about how to get help.
“They’re coming from countries where police may not even be on their side,” she said. “The victims have been brainwashed into thinking police are there to deport them. They’re also not allowed access to the outside world. Or let’s say they are: They go to the grocery store. But they’re always supervised. They’re taken by their trafficker so they never feel safe enough to just run. They don’t know 9-1-1. They don’t know they have rights. So the first time we even meet them it’s really empowering. We’re helping them realize they do have rights in the U.S.”
The discussion was rounded out by Ed Potter, director of
Potter noted the power in those kinds of “personalized," individual stories.
“We’re all citizens of the world,” he stressed. “There’s something that each of us, unrelated to our responsibilities at
Worldwide, there is tangible momentum in the fight against trafficking. For starters, the problem has gained exponential attention in the last five years, thanks, in part, to the Internet, and the many forums and websites highlighting the issue. And politicians are deeply involved. In fact, at the Clinton Global Initiative this past fall, U.S. President Obama called trafficking an “outrage” and outlined new steps to stem the abuse.
Because trafficking often involves young people, there’s a groundswell of support from younger Americans who are talking about the issue and bringing it to their high schools and college campuses.
During Tuesday’s closing Q&A session, Franklin acknowledged both the progress and the hard work still ahead, drawing a parallel with the legacy of the civil rights movement.
“When I graduated from high school, I could not be mayor of Atlanta. When I graduated from college, I could not be mayor of Atlanta. It was years after I graduated that the rights of African Americans in the South changed. And by virtue of being the beneficiary of these major changes — which allowed me to do something I enjoyed, my political career — because of that, I felt a responsibility to give back. So I would ask you to think about this issue as one of those that is going to take the same number of years and toil and strategy to change. And there is no telling what human potential we will unlock.”
To learn more about the signs of human trafficking, click here. If you see signs of trafficking in the United States, please call the National Trafficking hotline 888-373-7888, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hotline 866-347-2423 or go online to the Department of Homeland Security.