An estimated 1.2 million children are victims of trafficking each year,
and the travel industry – which criminals often use to move and enslave their
victims – has become increasingly involved in trying to do something about it. Travellers
can play their part, too, by being aware of suspicious activity and supporting
companies that have taken a stand against sex tourism and child exploitation.
To date, more than 1,000 travel and hospitality companies in
42 countries have signed The Code, a set
of principles to combat child trafficking and abuse that was launched in 1998
by Ecpat (End Child Prostitution,
Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) in Sweden. Travellers
can find a list of companies that have signed on the website and they can use Ecpat
to encourage other businesses to join too.
Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon, a Bangkok-based project
manager of The Code, said it is “a big step” for companies to sign on, as it
requires them to establish an ethical policy on child trafficking and exploitation,
train staff on the topic and put a clause in their contracts with suppliers.
“Travellers should understand that this sensitive crime is
often ignored by tourism companies because they are simply ignorant or unaware,
or because it conflicts with the ideal image of a dream vacation,” she said. “Others
are afraid to take action because they feel it's not their responsibility, or
they are afraid of legal ramifications or retaliation from organised
In fact, Carol Smolenski, executive director of Ecpat USA, said it was slow-going when the
organisation first tried to entice US companies to sign The Code in 2004. Just
one company – Carlson, which owns the Radisson and Country Inns and Suites hotels – signed,
and then there was a six-year stretch before any other US company joined them.
But since 2011, the initiative has gained momentum, with Delta
Airlines, Wyndham Worldwide (which includes Wyndham hotels, Ramada, Days Inn
and Howard Johnson), Hilton Worldwide and Sabre (owner of Travelocity) all
signing on in the US.
“People who work at [hotels or airlines] see funky stuff all
the time,” Smolenski said. “But unless they’re trained on what to do, they may
not do anything.” Under The Code, front-desk personnel are trained to recognise
signs of possible trafficking – such as a girl checking in with no baggage,
paying in cash and quickly followed to her room by a man. The company should
then have protocols in place to take the next steps.
Many businesses also help spread the word to travellers. For
instance, Accor, the worldwide hotel group that includes the Novotel and
Sofitel brands, puts up posters on child sex tourism in its hotels and hosts
events to raise awareness in Thailand.
Beyond patronising businesses that support The Code,
travellers should report suspicious activity. “Instinct kicks in,” Smolenski said,
adding that people don’t need much training to know when something isn’t right.
If a young girl is dressed up well beyond her years and appears to be in an odd
situation, for instance, say something to your tour guide, hotel or travel
company, or call the appropriate authorities. Emergency situations warrant a
call to local law enforcement. Tips can also be passed onto police or other
groups, such as local Ecpat offices or the
Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in the US.
“It is no longer accurate to say that trafficking is more
likely to happen in one particular country because in reality, human
trafficking occurs in every country,” said Sakulpitakphon, who conceded
that there are certain hubs, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. However Thailand
is also one of the countries in which the travel industry has responded well to
The Code. Others are Colombia, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and South Africa.
“It is everyone's
responsibility to prevent child sexual exploitation,” Sakulpitakphon said.
Lori Robertson writes the Ethical Traveller column for BBC
Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org.