Take the human trafficking problem seriously

Ed Bastian
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When many Americans think of organized crime, they think of drug cartels or criminal rings engaged in gambling or money laundering. What they probably don’t know is that after the drug trade, human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable organized criminal enterprise, estimated to be a $32 billion-a-year industry.

Human trafficking can take many forms, from trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation to trafficking in children for forced labor. It is a global phenomenon that victimizes 27 million people around the world each year. That’s about the same number of people who live in the state of Texas.

Trafficking touches almost every country in the world. And don’t think trafficking doesn’t happen right here at home. Just as drugs from other parts of the world make their way to this country, the United States is one of the top destination countries for trafficking in people. From children brought to this country to work in underground sex rings, to young people sold here to toil behind closed doors as domestic servants, human trafficking exists in the United States today.

No matter its form, trafficking is modern day slavery and one of the great evils of our time. And while the problem of human trafficking has gained greater awareness in recent years, all of us — religious and business leaders, companies and nonprofit organizations, law enforcement and health care providers — still have much work to do to curb this terrible practice.

Our laws, in many instances, treat victims who are sold for sex as defendants to be prosecuted. Other states need to follow the lead of our elected officials here in Michigan and enact policies that both increase penalties for traffickers and provide greater resources and treatment for the victims.

But laws alone are not enough to fight the problem. Today, too many of our health care providers are not adequately trained to identify, assess and treat trafficking victims. From what little research on trafficking we have, we know that a majority of victims seek healthcare at some point during their captivity. This means that many victims go undetected by practitioners at the very places where they can be rescued, places like doctors’ offices, urgent care centers or emergency rooms.

Corporate America also needs to do its part. While traffickers may conduct their hideous crimes in the shadows, these criminals, along with their victims, still live and work in our communities. They interact with us. They go to school and work in our offices and factories. They also fly on our planes, rent cars and sleep in our hotels. That’s why business, particularly those in the hospitality and transportation industries, must play a key role in fighting the pandemic of human trafficking.

At Delta Air Lines we were the first major carrier and the only U.S. airline to commit to specific UNICEF-supported recommendations designed to combat the scourge of human trafficking. In particular, we have trained all our front line staff — more than 68,000 Delta employees — and given them the resources needed to identify and report to law enforcement all potential cases of human trafficking.

We also work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure our training program is aligned with the U.S. government’s efforts to combat human trafficking. And we partner with nonprofit organizations, academics, and state and local governments to raise awareness in the fight against human trafficking.

We all have a role to play in combating human trafficking. Only together can we truly combat this most horrendous crime.

Ed Bastian is president of Delta Air Lines. Delta will be hosting a conference, “Human Trafficking: A Global Discussion,” today in Detroit.

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