Put it in Your RFP
As part of their broader human rights efforts, some large companies and associations have begun to include a single question in their RFPs asking if their suppliers have done training or have policies in place regarding human trafficking. Silberman admits she’s “not sure how much it impacts purchasing decisions at the end of the day,” and Ritter insists that it’s “simply not enough. We used to ask, ‘Do you have a policy against human trafficking?’ and one hotel replied, “Yes, we have crosswalks in front of our hotel.’” They didn’t even know what the question meant.
So her company chose different terminology. “We want them to be aware that this is an issue involving ‘child sex trafficking.’ And even if someone has had her 18th birthday, it doesn’t mean that she’s not a victim.”
Ritter made national news in 2011 when she was planning a meeting for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who asked her to query hotels about their policies on human trafficking as part of the site-selection process (at the time, she was unaware of the issue). Her hotel for the meeting, the Millennium Hotel St. Louis, agreed to sign The Code and put its employees through training. General Manager Dominic Smart also went to the leadership of Millennium and Copthorne Hotels to get permission to become a pilot program for the company.
“We had so much power, as all meeting planners do,” Ritter says. “When we walked into that hotel, we didn’t represent one person for five nights, we represented tens of thousands of hotel rooms a year.”
Not only would Ritter like to see all hotels become as responsible as the Millennium St. Louis, but for all meeting planners to take a stand. “You can go to the ECPAT Web site and print out a letter that informs hotels of some of the general facts, then share that with the general manager and ask him/her to sign The Code. The sales director is not the person who can make this happen and send it up the line to corporate. When we get to the point where, every day, meeting planners are bringing in this letter saying they prefer that their hotels sign the code, that’s when change will happen.”
She and the owners of Nix Conference and Meeting Management, Jane Quinn and Molly Hackett, have also worked with ECPAT to create a specific version of the code that includes recommendations for how meeting planning companies can implement it. It just became available on the ECPAT Web site, and her company was the first to sign it.
At press time, Ritter was working to pull together a spring 2014 conference to educate planners and suppliers in the meetings industry on the topic.
But there’s a long way to go. She has seen a slight increase in awareness since her first experience at the Millennium—but not much. She and others, like Silberman, estimate that only about five percent of hotels are trained in this area. “Some people still think it’s political or don’t want to draw attention to themselves,” Rittersays. “It’s just the right thing to do—to train your staff to look out for this.
“We came at this as a smaller company. We talk about it all the time, and we are not afraid to take a stand. And we haven’t lost business. It’s OK to talk about it."