Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking to hold meeting in Toronto

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 (assuming that someone else in responsible for this) or, if you work in a hotel, you might be thinking that surely it isn’t happening in your hotel.

It does affect event planners and all hotels. The sooner we all learn about it, the sooner we can make a difference and rescue these mainly local girls, primarily between the ages of 12 and 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 now on what is really important in the work that I do in the event industry.

The committee I joined is Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking (MPAHT). It is a Toronto-based organization working to create awareness and dispel the myths surrounding human trafficking in Canada’s event 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 inception in 2017, Sandy Biback, founder of MPAHT, has provided educational sessions on human trafficking in the event industry 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, to 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.

On January 26th, the Hyatt hotel hosted an MPAHT Information session which was attended by 88 industry professionals. We heard from Nunzio Tramontozzi, Detective Sergeant, Sex Crimes – Human Trafficking Enforcement in Toronto.

What we learned is that in Canada the 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 per cent are involved in street gangs. Each trafficker typically has 10-15 girls in his “stable” at a time – each girl worth $250,000 per year.

The myth is that the majority of people believe that human trafficking is something that involves predominately international victims. The reality is that domestic Human Trafficking is going on right in our own backyards. It is a local problem in all communities across Canada. In Toronto, 98 per cent of human trafficking cases were identified as domestic for the purpose of sexual exploitation. According to Nunzio, Toronto is a hub for 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 hotels and suppliers can 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 meeting planners can do:

  • Open the conversation before going to RFP
  • Add suitable RFP questions (see questions below)
  • Be aware onsite and 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

Questions You Can Add to your RFP:

Please advise if your venue/hotel plays a role in protecting the innocent by answering the following questions:

  1. Are you aware of this growing problem as it relates to the use of hotels by criminals for this activity?
  2. Do you currently have or participate in an education and awareness campaign, aimed at employees in the hospitality industry? If so, which campaign: ______
  3. Do you conduct your own training of employees to identify and report suspicious instances where child trafficking or illegal sexual exploitation might be occurring on your property? Is the training mandated?  If so, what service-type of employees are trained?
  4. Has your company signed on to the ECPAT-USA Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct. The Code is worldwide and training can be done online.

Our next MPAHT event:

Please mark your calendars for a special film screening of the award winning documentary on Human Trafficking: Sex Slaves. Canadian film maker Ric Esther Bienstock will be joining us and will do a Q&A.

When: March 6, 2018, 5:00 – 8:15 pm
Location: The Globe and Mail Centre, 351 King Street East, Level 17, Toronto

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