National Human Trafficking Awareness Day graphic

Human Trafficking: Raising Awareness Around Modern-Day Slavery

In 2019, the Polaris Project, operator of the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, documented 11,500 cases of reported human trafficking, a 20% increase over the previous year and likely only a fraction of the number of people globally trapped in human trafficking situations. On a global scale, the International Labour Organization estimated in 2016 that there were 40.3 million victims of human trafficking.

The Department of Homeland Security has designated the month of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the U.S., with Jan. 11 marking National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. For the DHS, the goal was to educate the public, law enforcement and other parties on what human trafficking is and how to recognize the signs of it occurring.

What is Human Trafficking?

Polaris Project defines human trafficking as the “use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor against their will.” Perpetrators or traffickers employ these tactics on victims for commercial sex acts or labor or services.

Vulnerable Populations

While human trafficking happens everywhere and can happen to anyone, people of color and the LGBTQ community are more prone to being trafficked than other demographics — and Polaris Project says this isn’t a coincidence.

“Generational trauma, historic oppression, discrimination and other societal factors and inequities create community-wide vulnerabilities,” Polaris Project said. “Traffickers recognize and take advantage of people who are vulnerable in certain ways.”

People experiencing unstable living situations, a history of domestic violence, undocumented immigrants and people addicted to drugs and alcohol can similarly be vulnerable to trafficking.

Identifying Modern Slavery

Human trafficking often happens in hotels because of their fragmented, transient and relatively anonymous nature. Hilton (No. 1 on DiversityInc 2021 Top 50 Companies for Diversity) and Marriott International (a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company), two of the world’s largest hotel chains, have taken steps to identify and fight human trafficking from their supply chains to their locations.

Maruiel Perkins-Chavis, Marriott’s VP of Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion, said to help combat human trafficking, the hotel introduced human trafficking awareness programming in 2016. The company also made it mandatory for all hotel workers in 2017, becoming the first nonservice-oriented required training for all on-property associates.

“More than 850,000 associates at more than 7,600 hotels have completed the training, creating a global workforce that stands ready to recognize and respond to human trafficking and live up to our core company values,” she said.

Marriott made its training available in 2020 to all members of the hospitality industry at no cost by donating the program to ECPAT-USA with support from the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“In just over one year, more than 500,000 hotel workers outside of Marriott have completed the training, and we are proud that this training is having an impact well beyond our workforce and equipping the broader industry with tools to address human trafficking,” she said.

In 2021, Marriott launched an enhanced version of its human trafficking training that “features interactive scenarios, separate learning paths for associates and managers, a mobile-friendly design, and increased guidance on responding to potential trafficking situations.”

“These critical enhancements, based on hotel-level feedback, will help associates turn awareness into action and continue to fight human trafficking,” Perkins-Chavis said. “By 2025, we have a goal to ensure that 100% of on-property associates have completed this training.”

Hilton also has training for its associates to recognize the signs of human trafficking and to report instances of it. The company conducted a global human rights assessment in 2015 that identified human trafficking as one of the most pressing issues that affects its value chain.

A spokesperson from the company said Hilton’s code of conduct highlights its commitment to human rights and condemns human trafficking.

“Hilton condemns all forms of slavery, forced labor and human trafficking, and encourages our suppliers and business partners to share in this commitment. We have a long-standing record of opposing human trafficking and sexual exploitation, demonstrated through our status as signatories of the ECPAT Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct since 2011, and through our efforts to provide anti-human trafficking training to all team members across all brands and properties,” the spokesperson said.

If signs of human trafficking are observed, it’s crucial to call law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The DHS notes some of the signs of human trafficking include:

  • The person appears disconnected from family, friends and community organizations.
  • A child stops attending school.
  • A dramatic or sudden change is noticed in a person’s behavior.
  • The person is in unsuitable conditions.
  • The person has bruises in various stages of healing.
  • The person lacks personal possessions and seems to have unstable living conditions.

Additional Resources

Visit the resources below for more information about human trafficking.

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