by Andrea Doyle | February 23, 2018
The 2005 documentary Sex Slaves spotlighted a worldwide epidemic: international human trafficking. According to Human Rights First, human trafficking is, annually, a $150 billion global business. 

Its reach does not exclude the event industry. 

To raise awareness, Toronto-based Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking (MPAHT) is sponsoring a special film screening followed by a discussion with the award-winning filmmaker behind the documentary, Ric Esther Bienstock, on March 6 at Toronto's Globe and Mail Centre. The event supports MPAHT and the Women's Support Network of York Region

MPAHT is working to dispel the myths surrounding human trafficking in Canada's event industry while simultaneously raising awareness.

"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," said Sandy Biback, CMP Emeritus, CMM, and MPAHT's founder. "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 and that human trafficking will not be allowed to flourish in our industry, creating a new business event standard."

Hotels play an instrumental role in fighting sex trafficking, said Biback. She refered to Marriott International's recent efforts as an example: The hotel company signed onto the ECPAT-USA's Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct with the collective goal to train all employees on how to identify the indicators of human trafficking. ECPAT-USA is a leading anti-child trafficking policy organization.

"We want training to include all staff, not just housekeeping, front desk, security. We do know that Marriott is doing that. We also know Hyatt in Toronto is doing that. This needs to be worldwide and ongoing and mandated, not an, if you want to," said Biback. "Ultimately, I'd like to see every lodging venue, Airbnb included, every special event venue, every convention center, every sports arena, be mandated to have training in place, by law."

There are several questions regarding human trafficking that planners should ask during the RFP process, she said. They include: What is the property doing about training? What is the chain of command if someone sees something?

"There are others, and each planner needs to design the ones that work for them," she added. "If the venue is doing nothing, open the conversation, bring awareness. Ultimately, my hope is planners only go to properties that have training and plans in place."

Eventually, Biback foresees human trafficking protocol becoming as important as the likes of sustainability measures, ADA compliancy, and emergency preparedness plans. 

"Remember when we asked hotels what they were doing to green their properties? Often the response was we use recycled paper. We've grown from there," she said. "Let's grow awareness and training to combat sex trafficking in our industry."

Those attending the screening are requested to put together an emergency bag with basic toiletries to donate.