The Meetings and Sex Trafficking Industries Share Something in Common

Image: Kaleidoscope U of Alabama Birmingham

Sex Trafficking is NASTY. Sex trafficking is one of those things that most people think only happens on the news and other, faraway places but the truth is, it happens where meeting and event planners spend a good portion of our time; Luxury and mid-tier hotels in the United States and around the world.  As screwed up as this sounds, this is where much of this epidemic takes place, right under our noses, above our meeting rooms and all around where we and our attendee’s sleep.

It is sometimes shocking to think that sex trafficking is not something that is confined to seedy back alleys and countries with names that we cannot pronounce. This is a crime that is committed in the very buildings where we hold meetings, conventions, conferences, events, weddings and yes, even a Bar Mitzvah or two.

According to International Crisis Aid (link is PDF file):

Sex Trafficking Around the World

  • 1.2 million children are being trafficked every year; this is in addition to the millions already held captive by trafficking (UNICEF)
  • Every 2 minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation (UNICEF)
  • The average age of a trafficked victim is 12-14 years old (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • UNICEF reports approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years (IAST)
  • The International Labor Organization—the UN agency charged with addressing labor standards, employment, and social protection issues—estimates that there are at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time. Of these victims, 1.4 million are victims of commercial sexual servitude. Also, 56% of all forced labor victims are women and girls. In the case of all forced labor, 40-50% of persons exploited may be children. (ILO)
  • People are trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries (UN)
  • The total market value of illicit human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion (UN)

But what are we to do about it. Meeting and event planners are not superheroes, we are not the police and we are certainly not Seal Team Six sliding out of helicopters to shoot bad guys and rescue the innocent. We plan meetings; our job is not that exciting.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do something to rescue these vulnerable women and children? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could wield some type of power that could shut down the scum of the earth that prey on the helpless?

Dust off your capes my fellow planners because maybe we can shine a light on the darkness that lurks around every corner and bring help to someone in need thanks to Nix Conference & Meeting Management in St Louis. Because of their work, we might have a chance to kick a little ass.

Nix has started a program in association with ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking) that encourages meeting and event planners to sign a code of conduct where we, as planners, will encourage hotels and resorts to sign onto the ECPAT-USA Code of Conduct for hotels and become aware of the human trafficking issue.

The code of conduct for the travel and tourism industry looks like this:

The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct is the only voluntary set of business principles travel and tour companies can implement to prevent child sex tourism and trafficking of children. The Code is a joint venture between the tourism private sector and ECPAT. Companies that endorse The Code are supported by ECPAT-USA to:

1. Establish an ethical policy regarding commercial sexual exploitation of children.
2. Train the personnel in the country of origin and travel destinations.
3. Introduce a clause in contracts with suppliers, stating a common repudiation of commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
4. Provide information to travelers by means of catalogues, brochures, in-flight films, ticket-slips, homepages, etc.
5. Provide information to local “key persons” who will be informally supportive of the Code, at the travel destinations.
6. Report annually to the Code of Conduct Steering Committee.

Hotel and travel companies in the United States that have signed on include:

  • Hilton Hotels Worldwide
  • The Millennium Hotel St Louis
  • Carlson
  • Delta
  • Wyndham Worldwide
  • Nix Conference and Meeting Management

The meetings industry can take action in the best way that we know how, through our buying power. To start, we can follow the Nix lead and encourage hotels to take action, get educated about human trafficking and we can add the question to our RFPs.

I would take it a step further and say when hotels kick back, we can flex our muscles and tell hotels that they must sign on or they will lose our business to a hotel that has signed on. We can make a hotel’s signing a standard part of our contract because, frankly, we can do that. This is the art of negotiation people and we meeting planners can be quite persuasive.

The Millennium Hotel in St Louis has signed on, I have a program that will work in St Louis so why wouldn’t I go there over another property. Seriously, if all of the hotels we work with were to sign on and train their staff, we could help crush the disgusting people that run the sex trade.

The meetings and events industry is a multibillion dollar affair and we swing a big bat when we all act together with one voice.

Meeting and event planners that sign the pledge and insist that hotels and resorts also sign on and act within the guidelines are doing something, we are making it harder for evil human beings to find safe havens where they can conduct their dirty work. When we act together we are ensuring that people are paying attention and calling the authorities. We might actually save a human being or two in the process.

This makes us more important than we already are because this makes us important to the innocent.

No person deserves the life that some are forced to live, everyone has the right to be free and laugh and have a little fun. Let’s work together and try to stomp on the heads of evil freaking people and make them pay for the lives that they destroy.

Really, if you don’t do this and turn a blind eye you are no better than someone that steps over the injured on the sidewalk. Ignorance was bliss but now you know; Sorry but you do.

As individuals we are sometimes powerless to help but as an industry we can make the impossible possible and maybe, just maybe, help someone get out of a life of pain and misery. Granted, they may never be alright but at least they will have a chance to work on the demons that will haunt them forever.

Through our actions, a child may learn to smile.

I also want to share the press release from Nix and please read the article on CNN

Meeting Planning Firm Leads the Charge to End Child Sex Trafficking

Nix Conference & Meeting Management to sign new Code of Conduct

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI: Nix Conference & Meeting Management is leading the charge among meeting planners worldwide to help end child sex trafficking. Nix is initiating a first-ever Meeting Planners Code of Conduct in January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and encouraging industry peers and competitors to join them in addressing the issue at every hotel where they do business.

“Child sex trafficking is widespread, occurring right now even at luxury hotels in the United States,” said Kimberly Ritter, Senior Account Manager and coordinator of Nix’ initiative to fight child sex trafficking. “Most hotel executives have no idea this exploitation of children exists at their properties. Once they become aware, however, they can establish policies and train staff to identify and take action against child sex trafficking.”

Nix is the first meeting planning company in the U.S. to sign a Meeting Planner’s Code of Conduct, which they developed in cooperation with ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking). They will sign the new code on Wednesday, January 11, 2012, during a Human Trafficking Awareness Day event at the Soulard Preservation Hall, 1921 South Ninth Street, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“As meeting and conference planners, we are using our close ties with hotel general managers and other professional resources to raise awareness and help end child sex trafficking,” said Molly Hackett, Principal at Nix.

“This is a wonderful and groundbreaking way to address the issue of child protection in tourism,” said Michelle Guelbart, M.S.W., Private Sector Project Coordinator of ECPAT-USA. “Working with Nix in the conference and meeting management sector is going to open doors that we did not have the resources or connections to access in the past.”

Nix has an extensive reach in the hotel industry, researching more than 700 hotels and visiting more than 50 hotels both within the U. S. and internationally on behalf of their clients each year. As part of their commitment to end child sex trafficking, Nix recently added a clause to their standard Request for Proposal inquiring about hotel policies on human trafficking.

“One hotel responded to our question on human trafficking policies by saying they have pedestrian crosswalks in front of their entrance,” said Jane Quinn, Principal at Nix. “Traffickers, unfortunately, depend on that kind of naivety to carry out their operations.”

Nix discusses child sex trafficking and exploitation in one-on-one meetings with hotel general managers, provides written materials, and encourages them to sign the ECPAT-USA Code of Conduct for hotels.

Nix Conference & Meeting Management first learned about the issue of child sex trafficking in hotels three years ago when a client, the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, asked them to inquire about hotel policies on human trafficking while researching sites for a conference.

“This was a request and an issue we had not heard about before,” said Jane Quinn. “As we researched it, we realized we could have a real impact on this crisis.”

In collaboration with the Sisters of St. Joseph, Nix successfully encouraged the Millennium Hotel St. Louis to sign the ECPAT-USA Code of Conduct for hotels in July 2011. That experience inspired Nix to develop a similar code of conduct for their own niche in the industry — meeting and conference planners.

“The bubble of people in our industry who are aware of child sex trafficking is growing every day,” said Molly Hackett. “Our goal is increase that awareness. We hope that one day soon, we’ll be able to provide our clients with a choice of hotels that are proactive on this issue.”

Meeting planners who adopt the Meeting Planner’s Code of Conduct agree to establish an internal social responsibility policy, implement an action plan with objectives and time-frames, and report annually. For more information on the code, contact Kimberly Ritter at (314) 645-1455 or

Nix Conference & Meeting Management, based in St. Louis, has managed meetings, conferences and trade shows for associations, religious organizations, businesses and nonprofits since 1985. Nix has managed events on four continents and in 17 countries. For more information, call (314) 645-1455.

Mary Schanuel

According to ECPAT-USA:

In the United States, 200,000 American children are at risk for exploitation a year. Our youth are strategically targeted and manipulated by pimps who use hotel rooms as venues to abuse children, knowing that systems are not in place to protect the victims. With the use of online classified ads, child trafficking is moving off the streets and behind the closed doors of local hotel rooms.

The children are transported from city to city via U.S. owned airlines and buses by traffickers. Air travel is also a primary means of transportation for child sex tourists– individuals who travel overseas to sexually exploit local children. The Code helps these travel and tour companies create programs and policies to identify victims and traffickers so that they can effectively react.

The meetings and events industry controls a shitload of spend, we can help, we should help and it is our moral responsibility to get off our asses and do something because if we don’t, who will.

Sign on now and let’s all make a difference.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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