Opinion: Stop human trafficking before World Cup

NEW YORK — With the start of the FIFA World Cup Finals quickly approaching, it’s easy for soccer fans to get caught up in the excitement of the matches, the grandeur of new stadiums and the rush of people visiting South Africa from around the world. But the influx of half a million tourists will have the unintended consequence of creating new opportunities for human trafficking — a practice that is unfortunately found in nearly every country around the world.

The United Nations estimates that 12 million people are victims of human trafficking, including forced labor and sexual exploitation, every year. Children are disproportionally affected by this practice, vulnerable victims to child prostitution and sex tourism.

Unfortunately, large events like the World Cup, which attract a considerable number of people to a limited area for a short time, often bring with them a short-term increase in the demand for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation as well as forced labor. The event may also inadvertently facilitate the entry of trafficked persons as visitors to South Africa before they are moved to other cities or countries where they are further exploited.

But the situation is not hopeless. As an active partner in helping corporations conduct their business in a socially responsible manner, Christian Brothers Investment Services has spent the past year, in conjunction with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, learning about human trafficking and devising ways investors, shareholders, corporations and individuals can help combat it.

Hotels and other lodgings are in the unique position to stop these tragic crimes and we have urged them through a letter-writing campaign to the CEOs of major hotel chains to take steps in the days leading up to the World Cups to help prevent human trafficking.

In the letter, we encourage hotels to teach their staff to be observant of potential victims; build alliances with police, anti-trafficking organizations and child welfare agencies; provide information to guests about the laws and penalties imposed for trafficking and support organizations that help the victims of these tragic crimes. 

So far, more than 300 groups have signed the letter, including The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an association of faith-based institutional investors, as well as non-faith based investors and members of religious communities from across North America, Europe, and Africa, including the Counter Trafficking in Persons Desk of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference and Leaders of Consecrated Religious Life (SA), South African Council of Churches, Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. The signers represent a variety of organizations around the world that are dedicated to ending human trafficking by raising awareness within the lodging industry.

In addition, we encourage all hotels to sign The Code, an industry-wide tool for facilitating the protection of children’s rights by the travel and tourism sector. Many major hotel chains are now working to create an ethical policy against commercial sexual exploitation of children, to train their staff in identifying human trafficking and publicly reporting their progress in curbing these crimes. The Code is recognized among tourism industry associations, governments and child’s rights organizations as an important standard to putting an end to human trafficking throughout the world.

Human trafficking is a human rights issue that corporations can combat with an approach that has proven successful in the past. By developing appropriate policies, training employees, implementing an action plan, monitoring performance and reporting findings, the travel and tourism industry can help prevent these crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice.

Just as human trafficking is present in nearly every country in the world, every corporation and person can take small steps to help end it. For travelers headed to the World Cup, we encourage you to research where you are staying and persuade hotel owners and managers to share their policies and practices, as well as general findings, in regard to this issue.

CBIS has developed a letter for travelers to deliver at the front desk of their hotels, which speaks to these issues. The letter is available at the CBIS SRI Action web site. A similar letter for all travelers is also available at the site.

It is our sincere hope that through these actions, the travel and tourism sector will be made aware of the important role they play in ending human trafficking and that individuals will feel empowered to work to end this practice. Together, we can work to protect people around the world and end human trafficking, not just during the World Cup, but permanently.

Julie Tanner is the Assistant Director of Socially Responsible Investing for Christian Brothers Investment Services, a leader in Catholic socially responsible investing worldwide. For more information, visit www.cbisonline.com.