April 07, 2009
Human Trafficking and Child Sex Tourism: Crimes of Global Proportions Intersect with Corporate Responsibility
by Robert Kropp
Activist shareowner engagement leads to progress in corporate action against human trafficking and
child sex tourism, but much work yet remains to be done, especially among US-based corporations.
First of a two-part series.
To the casual observer, responsibility for curbing the international crimes of human trafficking
and child sex tourism might not seem to belong to business. Forcing individuals into slavery or
indentured servitude, and traveling to mostly developing countries for the purpose of the sexual
exploitation of children, might be seen as the exclusive responsibility of national governments and
the rule of law instead.
According to Lauren Compere, the Director of Shareholder
Advocacy at Boston Common Asset
Management, "For years, companies have pushed back against activist shareholders and said that
matters of human rights are really government issues."
But in reality, governmental
intervention is often insufficient at best, and in some cases government complicity in the
practices is undisguised. In Uzbekistan, for instance, children as young as twelve years old are
forced into laboring in cotton fields at harvest time for long hours. Local governments in
countries in Asia and Central America too often turn a blind eye to the presence of a lucrative sex
tourism industry that exploits an estimated one to two million children worldwide.
recent years, inroads have been made in combating what the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a faith-based
shareowner advocacy organization, has called "globalization's darkest secret." But what
contribution can business make in helping to eradicate human trafficking and child sex tourism?
Merely expounding upon the examples listed above indicates that business is uniquely
positioned to play an important role. Manufacturers of clothing purchase the cotton that the
children of Uzbekistan are forced to harvest. Sexual predators travel on airlines to arrive at the
destinations where they exploit children forced into prostitution. Those same predators often use
the facilities of international hotel chains as the locations where their crimes are committed.
As Ursula Wynhoven of the UN
Global Compact said, "The private sector has an important role, not only in trying to avoid
contributing to the problems of human trafficking and child sex tourism, but also in making a
positive contribution to their eradication."
Compere talked with SocialFunds.com about
some of the early efforts by shareowners to engage US companies in the travel and tourism industry
on the issue of child sex tourism.
"By 2005, hotel chains based in the US lagged behind
their European counterparts in developing policies to deal with the issue," she said. "A group of
American shareholders then helped a Swedish investment group craft a proposal for the Marriott
hotel chain. Marriott turned out to be very concerned about the issue, and developed a human rights
task force of senior executives to develop procedures for education and training of its employees
on the issue."
Another industry that responded to shareowner engagement on the issues with
at least a measure of concrete results was the airline industry. European airlines have been far
more proactive than their US-based counterparts in their attempts to educate their customers about
child sex tourism. Air France, for instance, regularly shows an in-flight film on the issue. In the
US, only United agreed to show the film at all, and then only for a short while.
said, "US Airways provided us with free ad space in an in-flight magazine for a month, which was an
important first step, but thus far has not shown a willingness to do much more. We asked them to
provide training for their employees to help them identify human trafficking victims, but they were
unwilling to provide employees with a paid day off for the training. However, we continue to work
with US Airways on the issues."
Widespread publicity of the use of child labor in
Uzbekistan led eight major clothing companies and four major industry trade groups representing 90%
of US purchases of cotton and cotton merchandise to demand an immediate end to the use of forced
child labor in cotton harvesting. In September 2008, the Uzbek government responded by issuing a
plan to eradicate the use of child labor.
According to Compere, the eight companies that
engaged with the Uzbek government on the issue of forced child labor learned that it is indeed
possible to track human rights violations back through the supply chains to the raw materials. Five
years ago, Compere noted, such recognition of their increased responsibility might not have been
acknowledged by companies.
Byraising the profiles of human trafficking and child sex
tourism, shareowner advocates see their campaign as evolving from a focus on mitigation of the
issues toward engaging with companies to develop a more proactive approach to the problem.
Compere said, "We've begun to see companies looking beyond just mitigating the issue and acting
in a positive way by supporting some of the organizations on the ground, like the Polaris Project," an anti-trafficking
Wynhoven of the UN Global Compact said, "Along with the industry sectors
directly impacted by the issues, there are key roles in expanding awareness and sharing best
practices among other sectors whose potential contributions may be less obvious."
instance," she continued, "There is currently an interesting initiative involving financial
companies trying to bust child pornography on the Internet."
The The Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography (FCACP) , launched in 2006, is an initiative
uniting financial institutions and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the goal
of which is to eradicate the commercial viability of child pornography by following the flow of
funds and shutting down the payment accounts that are being used by these illegal enterprises.
Yet even as progress is made in some areas, other important steps that companies could be
making are being avoided instead. Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA, a network of organizations and individuals working
together to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children, has found that most US-based
companies in particular are leery of engaging on the issues by becoming signatories of the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from
Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, to cite one example.
The Code requires its
signatories to commit themselves to the implementation of criteria that actively promote a socially
responsible, child-wise tourism. Of the 623 signatories, only five are based in the United States.