MPI Signs The Code, a Pledge to Combat Human Trafficking
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MPI Signs The Code, a Pledge to Combat Human Trafficking

By Rowland Stiteler | Mar 29, 2019

April 4, 2019, was an important day in MPI’s history, as the organization became a signatory to “The Code,” an important document—and pledge—by a global network of associations and corporations committed to taking significant actions in the worldwide fight against human trafficking.

MPI’s original commitment to this cause came in 2017, when President and CEO Paul Van Deventer, who signed The Code on behalf of MPI, heard Sister Kathleen Bryant, a Religious Sister of Charity from Los Angeles and a board member of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, address an MPI International Board of Directors meeting.

“I was moved by the plight of these innocent victims—many of them young children—and realized that I had a responsibility and an opportunity to help,” Van Deventer would later write in The Meeting Professional, the monthly magazine of MPI. (The Meeting Professional has featured many articles about the fight against human trafficking since the beginning of 2018.)

MPI soon embraced the cause, becoming involved with the U.S. affiliate of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), a network of organizations in more than 90 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children.

ECPAT-USA has been around since 1991 and has been enlisting hotels, airlines and other fundamental components of the travel industry into the fight. The reason for this is that most of the human trafficking involves moving women and children around the globe, often to be used as sex slaves, with “customers” being accommodated inside hotel rooms.

Recently, ECPAT-USA hit upon the idea of recruiting professional groups within the meeting industry to join in the worldwide movement to fight human trafficking. It was something of a match made in heaven when MPI and ECPAT-USA came together.

Van Deventer felt it was an opportunity for MPI to serve a higher cause, and also felt the nature of what MPI members do frequently—travel—offered a very well suited legion of people to lend eyes and ears to being on the lookout for signs of human trafficking, once they were properly trained for the task. (That training is one of several key pieces required of those who sign The Code. MPI and its chapters have been involved in such training during 2018, but more training will be rolled out this year.)

ECPAT-USA is also excited about the concept of bringing MPI into the fold.

“We really see trade associations like MPI as the groups that can spread the message about how the travel industry can become involved in fighting human trafficking and what meeting planners specifically can do to encourage those efforts,” says Michelle Guelbart, MSW, director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA. “The meeting and event industry has been very important in spreading the word on this issue, so we do believe that MPI’s engagement is going to really push the effort forward in a big way.”

By signing The Code, MPI pledged to take specific actions and adhere to specific policies on a worldwide basis, and also to advocate those policies and practices to MPI’s various stakeholders. For instance, references to MPI’s positions about human trafficking and actions against it will be stated in RFPs to companies and individuals MPI does business with, and those third parties will be encouraged by MPI to follow the practices stated in the RFPs.

As Guelbart points out, associations and companies that state their positions about fighting human trafficking can’t exactly bludgeon their vendors and other business partners to join in cause, but the RFP strategy certainly makes a good communication method—with a bit of leverage—to encourage others to do the right thing.

MPI has several actions planned throughout the course of 2019.

  • MPI shared its policy with all staff on the day of signing The Code, April 4, 2019, and issued a press release.

  • The policy will also be referenced in the Employee Handbook and will be shared with all new employees upon their first day of hire. MPI will post its policy on MPI.org and make it available to all chapters via the chapter leader newsletter by May 1, 2019. (The policy referred to in the plan is that MPI condemns all forms of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, and will instruct employees to report signs of human trafficking when they see them.)

  • MPI will share its commitment to ending all forms of human trafficking via all social media avenues by May 1, 2019.

  • MPI will add language to its major event registrations regarding its position on fighting human trafficking by July 1, 2019. (Chapters will be asked to do the same for their own events.)

  • MPI will add language to its membership application by July 1, 2019.

There are other pieces of MPI’s plan going forward, such as asking traveling employees and associates to photograph every hotel room in which they stay so those photos can be added to a global database that can be used to help identify specific hotel rooms in which sexual exploitation occurs.

More details about MPI’s activities in 2019 to support the fight against human trafficking will be posted in future blogs on MPIWeb.org.

 

Author

Rowland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.