Human Trafficking – or How a part of Modern Slavery Functions

NOT for sale: human trafficking

Event data

23. 5. 2017
Diplomatische Akademie Wien
Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, Musikzimmer, Favoritenstraße 15, 1040 Vienna
Heather Wokusch, Academic Council on the United Nations System – Vienna, Austria
Nancy Rivard, President, Airline Ambassadors International, Virginia, USA
Carlos Pérez, Coordinator of National Project against Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling, UNODC, Bogotá, Colombia
Mary Shuttleworth, President, Youth for Human Rights International, California, USA
Greg H.Bristol, President, The Human Trafficking Investigations & Training Institute, Virginia, USA
Željka Momirović, Director of International Relations - Houston Airport System
Gerald Tatzgern, Head, Central Services Combating Human Smuggling and Human Trafficking, Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior

On Tuesday 23rd May, I attended an event held by the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna on the topic of “Modern Slavery”.

The speakers were Nancy Rivard, President of Airline Ambassadors International, an organisation which campaigns for training and better conditions in order to combat human trafficking in air traffic and to detect possible victims.

A further speaker was Greg H. Bristol, who previously worked for the FBI and who is now President of the Human Trafficking Investigations & Training Institute.

A reperesentative of the airport in Houston, USA , Željka Momirović, Director for International Affairs of the Houston Airport System, described the possibilities that airport personnel have to limit and prevent human trafficking.

The fourth and final speaker was Mary Shuttleworth, founder of the international organisation Jugend für Menschenrechte (Youth for Human Rights International), who drew a connection between the awareness of human rights and the existing human trafficking. A human rights organisation which, incidentally, is connected to Scientology, and, which has cautiously introduced some Scientology-related content to its materials in the past. Mary Shuttleworth is also a Scientologist; this influence was not evident in her talk but emerged upon further research.

Heather Wokusch moderated the event. She is an academic advisor at the United Nations.

She began with the statement that, according to the international labour organisation, 201 million people are affected by human trafficking. From these, approximately 68% are engaged in forced labour.

It is estimated that up to 30 billion dollar is generated by human trafficking every year. It is the third greatest human rights’ violation on our planet. Human trafficking is a daily occurrence in almost every modern country. People are transported against their will in buses, trains, cars and aeroplanes. Because of this, not only airport officials or the police are responsible – we too can act against human trafficking.

After these words, Nancy Rivard was introduced and she began her contribution on the subject. Her non-governmental organisation, Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), was founded in 1992; it is recognised by the US Congress as well as by the UN and is active in 62 nations.

Initially this organisation was involved in freeing needy children from precarious situations. The scope of its activities broadened when a naked child was found in an aeroplane. This was the AAI’s first contact with human trafficking.

They quickly identified victims of human trafficking in four further airlines with the help of twelve people. Another case was uncovered in Boston in which 86 children were involved. Already in 2000 a UN additional protocol was prepared on the subject of human trafficking and in the USA the number of campaigns on the subject increased. However, at this point there was no reaction or combatting measures on the part of  the airline industry itself.

This is important because human trafficking is closely connected to other crimes such as illegal prostitution, money laundering and terrorism. It is, therefore, a criminal network. For this reason, cooperation between the airline industry and the executive, as well as training of flight attendants on the recognition of human trafficking, is essential.

As the US government has not introduced any long-term effective measures, the AAI itself began to develop a training programme on the recognition and prevention of human trafficking in the airline industry. This took place on a voluntary basis.

In an ideal scenario the communication is thus: a flight attendant recognises a possible victim of human trafficking and informs the pilot, who radios the information to the destination airport. However, because no law for this exists and this only occurs voluntarily, the pilot often consider this information to be exaggerated and it is not passed on.

Currently in the USA, the AAI is therefore campaigning for the government to take more initiative. It is important to behave normally and to forward the information to the law enforcement agencies and not to intervene oneself.

If 100 aviation participants who regularly fly watch out for cases of human trafficking, four million passengers could thereby be monitored. If 12 flight attendants can save 100 children, you can imagine how many cases of human trafficking could be uncovered by 100 regular passengers.

There is a mobile app – “TIP Line” – which is available in both the Google Play store and in the App store. The app trains the recognition of victims and has an infrastructure at its disposal with which a message can be sent to local law enforcement agencies.

In order to prevent human trafficking, the conduct of the individual is particularly important as the airports themselves will only act when forced to do so by law.

After these words, the next speaker was introduced: Željka Momirović. In the region of the city of Houston, she is responsible for diplomatic affairs and international protocols at two airports. Further, she is the coordinator between the two airports and the AAI and holds training sessions for future airport staff.

She gave a broad description of the organisation of an airport.

Every member of staff, from the cleaning personnel to the police, require an impeccable character reference and have to undergo security training and only then do they gain access to certain parts of an airport. However, no training on the recognition of victims of human trafficking is included in this security training. The respective networks are in place but the individual groups are not coordinated. Therefore, a case of, for example, human trafficking will not be further communicated in a professional manner since there is no routine for this.

When Željka spoke to the management board about this fact, there was much reluctance. The argument was that it would put customers off if greater attention were to be paid to possible human trafficking. As a reaction to this defensive attitude, she, together with the AAI, initiated training on a voluntary basis and this was successful precisely due to its voluntary character.

After this brief excursus, the third guest appeared on the stage:

Greg H. Bristol was an FBI Special Agent responsible for investigations in cases of counterespionage, public corruption, stock fraud and civil rights’ violations from 1987 to 2010. The last included human trafficking. Subsequently he was active as a Special Agent for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for 13 months. This is a supervisory institution in the USA which oversees the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

In 2012 he returned to the USA and founded the Human Trafficking Training Institute, which offers courses for law enforcement agencies in relation to human trafficking. He referred to the fact that, during his career, he did not receive any training at all on human trafficking.

He described how kidnappers and human traffickers proceed:

At first the offender promises the victim that he/she will be taken from, for example, India to the rich European countries for 500 Euro. During a stopover in Istanbul, this amount is trebled in order to continue the journey. Arriving in Mexico, the offender demands even more money and brings the victim to the USA to work for them.

Home Land Security is responsible for law enforcement. If children are transported with United Airlines, it is even possible to hand them over to some individual without any problem. Offenders and victims often have a common tattoo. Girls are often tattooed directly on their tongues. It is the task of trained police to watch out for such conspicuous features.

Posters on the subject of human trafficking could make it easier for victims to talk. Other possibilities are another kind of sniffer dogs at airports which would be more amiable for children. These could possibly also make it easier for a child to talk.

Mr. Bristol believes that the weakest link is law enforcement as it does not concentrate on human trafficking. For 1,500 drug dealers who are arrested, there are only 300-400 human traffickers. He has also spoken with prostitutes in Washington D.C.: a majority of them were not voluntarily on the street.

A majority of police chiefs in the USA are not even aware of this. He stressed the importance of training which would last four hours for a normal police officer and three days for a chief of police.

At the end of his talk, the last speaker, Mary Shuttleworth spoke on the subject of human rights. However, she only mentioned the importance of human rights and presented a few projects in Australia and Africa, remaining in general rather vague.

After Mary Shuttleworth, the event was concluded. However, one thing was clear – the next time that we fly, every one of us can do something against human trafficking. We can pay attention to check if everything appears to be functioning as it should and if suspicions arise, to inform the flight attendants of this.
Translation into English: Donna Stockenhuber


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NOT for sale: human trafficking NOT for sale: human trafficking Ira Gelb CC BY-ND 2.0