The human trafficking event at the Williamson County Enrichment Center attracted about 100 people who learned strategies to combat human trafficking. // Photo Matt Blois
By MATT BLOIS
A group of business owners from around Williamson County learned about strategies they can use to combat human trafficking at a seminar on Friday morning at the Williamson County Enrichment Center.
The panel of speakers included a law enforcement officer, the president of a non profit fighting human trafficking, the human resources director for UPS and a human trafficking survivor.
One of the take home messages from the event was that almost any business can help prevent human trafficking by training employees to report it and hiring survivors of human trafficking.
Ashleigh Chapman, the president and CEO of Alliance for the nonprofit Freedom, Restoration and Justice, offered several examples of well known businesses that are already using their resources to fight human trafficking.
She said the hotel chain IHG trained employees to report human trafficking because hotels can often be the site of human trafficking crimes. She also highlighted the work of the staffing agency Randstad, which started a program to hire victims of human trafficking.
While direct interventions like rescuing victims of human trafficking seems like the most obvious way to address the problem, she encouraged business owners to look for ways to help victims afterward.
“We all rushed to rescue and we rushed to restoration,” Chapman said. “We just weren’t thinking that we also have to create a pathway for these individuals to have a successful living wage career on the other side of this.”
Shelia (last name withheld), who was a victim of human trafficking, said finding a job was one of the biggest challenges after she started to get her life back on track. She said her recovery program helped her process years of abuse and build new job skills, but it was still hard to find work.
“We need businesses who are willing to give second chances because the reality of it is we are no different from anyone in this room when it comes to paying rent. You have to pay a mortgage,” she said. “If there’s no employment. If no one is willing to give that second chance — sometimes third, fourth chance — then we typically go back to the only thing we know.”
Jeff Bloedorn, the human resources director for UPS in much of the south, explained that his company has trained 90 percent of UPS drivers to recognize human trafficking. The company partnered with the nonprofit group Truckers Against Trafficking to design the training.
“When you look at truckers in general they outnumber law enforcement four to one,” he said. “That’s a lot of eyes, a lot of ears that could be out there creating that difference. But first you have to educate them on the process.”
Event organizer Steve Grissim pointed out that victims of human trafficking frequently come into contact with employees from private businesses. That could happen in a bank, a hotel or in a hospital. He said training those employees to recognize human trafficking could help law enforcement intervene.
“Nonprofits are overworked and underfunded. That’s an area that you can help support, but they need us as businesses to help them in this fight,” he said.
He said the ubiquitousness of private business puts business owners in an important position to fight trafficking.
The Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice has created a list of examples showing how different types of businesses can get involved in preventing human trafficking. Chapman said business owners should start there to get some ideas about how to help.
The nonprofit has also created an online toolkit that provides information about how to train employees to recognize human trafficking and avoid using products produced with forced labor in supply chains.
In addition, the nonprofit also offers an online course to educate business owners about the signs of human trafficking and how to prevent it.