Human trafficking is a $150 billion a year global business, according to Human Rights First. But while that may seem like an overwhelming problem for one person to tackle, that didn't stop Sandy Biback, CMP Emeritus, CMM, from doing what she could to wrangle industry resources to address the issue.
About two years ago, Biback attended a lunch presentation where Toronto Star
editor Kevin Donovan discussed human trafficking in Toronto (where her company, Imagination+Meeting Planners Inc., is based). She grew concerned about the issue as it impacts the meeting and event industry specifically.
"We know that human/sex trafficking is happening in five star hotels and highway motels," says Biback, a veteran of the industry for more than three decades. "We know it is happening at large conventions, in convention centers, at large sporting events."
She sought to learn more, digging into the available research, meeting with law enforcement officials in Toronto's human trafficking division, and traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia. It inspired her to take action, hosting the educational breakfast, Human Trafficking in Our Backyard, where event planners and members of the local hospitality industry were invited to discuss the issue. It attracted 44 meeting planners and other industry executives, so she knew she was on to something.
Biback has since worked to expand this into the ongoing program, Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking. One of her goals is to create awareness and get hotels and other event venues to train their employees on what to look for, and what action to take if they suspect an incident of trafficking.
"My take is planners need to ask questions on their RFPs," she says. "Kind of like we do for accessibility, risk, and used to do for sustainability."
Although these aims are ambitious, she points to the impact organizations like Exchange Initiative, (www.exchangeinitiative.com), a resource center to fight sex trafficking is making. The organization leads meeting planners to help end sex trafficking in hotels.
Others have joined her efforts. Members of the Meeting Planners Against Human Trafficking team now include Ruth Abrahamson of Base Consulting and Management Inc.; Ellen Boddington, CMP, CMM of Stellar Conference & Event Management Inc.; Catherine Paull, CMP of Catherine Paull Meeting Management Inc.; Robert Thompson of A-V Canada; Gale Gingrich, CMP, who is retired and was formerly with The Gingrich Group Inc.; and Rita Plaskett, CMP, CMM of AGENDUM Inc. The group is in the process of planning further strategic gatherings.
Biback and other members of her team were on hand as Toronto Mayor John Tory declared May 10, 2017, Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
"How many times are planners wandering around a venue in the dark of night? What do they see?" she asks. "And if they see something funny who do they report it to?"