I hesitate to call the airport my second home, because at times it feels like my first home. As the daughter of a humanitarian development worker, I was raised in several countries – which has resulted in a flood of memories rushing at me whenever I find myself walking through the sliding glass doors of an airport.
Some of these memories include me proudly carrying package of Huggies diapers through customs as a toddler, watching floating sheets of city lights pierce the darkness of night through my airplane window, and jumping on hotel beds before my parents even had a chance to set down their luggage.
These lovely childhood memories have been somewhat hijacked during my travels lately. Since becoming an abolitionist, I catch myself keeping an eye out for young women or children travelling alone or with someone suspicious. I watch the way people interact and occasionally even sit strategically in places where I can eavesdrop on conversations. Calling me a paranoid creep is perhaps not an overstatement, and I am always embarrassed when my “trafficking suspect” merely ends up being a dad with his two teenage girls on their way to visit grandma.
As silly as my self-assigned spy missions seem most of the time, the reality is that international trafficking takes place at airports around the world every day. A man I met with a number of months ago opened my eyes to the difficulty and complexity of spotting trafficking victims at airports, as many of them do not realize they are being trafficked until they have left the building. Hotels are often the next step in the sequence, and victims find themselves on lock down in a foreign land.
For this reason, I am extremely pleased that two big companies in the travel industry have decided to step on board with ECPAT International to do their part in the fight against trafficking. In March of this year, Delta Airlines became the first major airline in the world to sign the ECPAT tourism Code of Conduct. As such, it will implement policies to stop child trafficking and provide training to help its employees identify and report trafficking activities or victims they come across. Delta will also raise awareness through its Sky magazine.
As posted on their website, the executive director of ECPAT-USA had this to say:
All travel companies could unwittingly be facilitating the sex trafficking of children. If they do nothing to raise awareness or to prevent child trafficking, they risk becoming an indirect and unintentional conduit for the abuse that takes places. We applaud Delta Air Lines for taking the first step toward helping fight the sex trafficking of children that has become a global epidemic.
Hilton Hotels, the world’s leading global hospitality company, followed suit last month. Though some are concerned that addressing such a grim reality will hurt the hotel chain’s image, others say that taking a stand against exploitation is in fact good for the hotel chain’s reputation. I agree.
The downside is that many traffickers use seedy motels instead of luxury hotels to keep costs low, but hopefully Hilton’s example will inspire some smaller chains to adopt similar initiatives. There also needs to be a movement that goes beyond stopping children from being trafficked, as many victims are over 18.
Regardless, these companies are taking the lead on an important issues, and for that I applaud them. There needs to be more trained professionals watching out for warning signs – the warning signs that the average traveller (like me) may overlook or misinterpret.
For more information on the ECPAT Code of Conduct, you can see their website. You can see Hilton’s press release here and an article about Delta Airlines here. To see a list of all the companies that have signed the code, click here. To sign a petition to get other hotels to do the same, click here. Maybe this will impact where you choose to spend your money on your next vacation!