MPI Blog


Taking a Stand Against Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

In January, many people around the U.S. participated in Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The reason? Nearly 21 million people throughout the world are victims of human trafficking. But the reality is that a lot is happening right here in the U.S.

Throughout my years in the event and travel industry, I’d never given human trafficking much thought. It wasn’t widely spoken about even just a few years ago. Shortly after joining Maritz Global Events in 2011, I began investigating the issue and one of the visual examples was of a young woman in a hotel with the St. Louis Gateway Arch in the background. We learned that St. Louis is a hub for human trafficking because of its central U.S. location. This one image changed me, making me fully aware that this horrific crime happens literally where we live and work.

Globally, the travel industry is a key conduit for this crime, which has been dubbed “modern day slavery.” Capitalizing on the internet to sell victims, traffickers move across cities and countries via air and ground transportation, and they use hotels as venues to abuse victims.

I immediately started working with our St. Louis headquarters to become involved in this fight. However, I initially received the typical response from our public relations department: “Why would we want to get involved with anything around ‘human trafficking?’” After sharing the information with them, we mutually decided that, as one of the largest event companies in the industry, we MUST become involved.

In 2013, we became one of the first in our industry to sign The Code with ECPAT-USA, committing to launching a company-wide awareness program, creating a policy against human trafficking, training our employees on the signs of human trafficking and raising awareness among our company’s suppliers. This set off an outpouring of support from our employees who wondered how they could become involved in the fight against human trafficking.


Since we started our journey, we’ve made significant progress against our goal of raising awareness within our company and the industry. We’ve partnered with trafficking survivors including Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt and Annie Lobert to share their stories with our employees and suppliers at our own internal events. We’ve spoken about our involvement within the industry at events hosted by organizations such as IMEX, PCMA, the U.S. Travel Association, Hosts Global, the Event Industry Council and many others. We’ve supported local and national organizations that are actively helping victims rehabilitate from trafficking, specifically Monarch and The Covering House located in St. Louis. We’ve influenced others in our industry to become involved in the fight, including Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, SITE and MPI—who have since signed The Code or committed to do so.

Last year, we began including a question in our RFPs to nearly 17,000 suppliers that inquired about their human trafficking policies. We’ve also included a provision in all of our Maritz Global Meetings Network partner contracts ensuring their support and adherence to our policy. This is an effort to become more conscious of how our partners and vendors are doing business.

In addition, we were honored to share the Traffickcam app (available for iPhone or Android) with our nearly 1,500 employees. This incredible app, designed by The Exchange Initiative and Washington University, allows users to take pictures of their hotel rooms and upload them to a global database. As victims are being trafficked online, law enforcement officers can tap into the photos within the database and compare them with photos of the victims in various hotel rooms. There are currently more than 150,000 hotels in the database.

But, we have a lot more to do.

I strongly believe that every single one of us in the travel industry is responsible for increasing awareness of and putting an end to human trafficking. Our strong network of travelers, hotels, suppliers and employees are in unique positions to be the eyes and ears needed to help victims.

I challenge EACH COMPANY in our industry to get involved and, ideally, sign The Code. I implore EVERY INDIVIDUAL in our industry to learn the signs of human trafficking and report potential situations immediately. Understand the following indications of a person who has been trafficked.

  • Shows signs that their movement is controlled.

  • Has few or no personal possessions.

  • Has no control of their travel documents or identification papers.

  • Has false identity or travel documents.

  • Has someone speak for them, or a third party insistent on being present and translating.

  • Doesn’t know their home or work address.

  • Is unaware of their whereabouts, having lost a sense of time.

  • Has numerous inconsistencies in their story.

  • Has no access to their earnings.

  • Is unable to negotiate working conditions.

  • Works excessively long hours over long periods.

  • Has limited or no social interaction.

  • Has limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment.

  • Thinks that they are bonded by debt.

If you suspect an instance of trafficking, please take action in the following ways.

  • Call the hotline: (888) 373-7888, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

  • Report a tip online to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC).

We have all been unwilling participants in the human trafficking trade for too long. It’s time for all of us to take a stand, work together to help the victims of human trafficking and stop this insidious crime.

About the Author

David Peckinpaugh
David Peckinpaugh

As president of Maritz Global Events, David Peckinpaugh provides strategic oversight for both Maritz Travel and Experient, two of the largest and most respected leaders in the event industry employing more than 1,600 employees globally. As an industry veteran, David has been recognized for his passion and advocacy efforts.