Shining a Light on Human Trafficking: How Seaports Are Taking a Stand

Ports + Awareness
shining a light

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and this year, an initiative is underway to raise awareness of this human rights abuse in U.S. seaports. AAPA has joined forces with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) to roll out the Not Alone awareness campaign to over 70 seaports across the nation. This campaign aims to shine a light on the issue of human trafficking and to empower victims, port employees, and seaports visitors to take action.

Human trafficking is a global crisis that knows no borders. It is a form of modern-day slavery that involves the exploitation of vulnerable people who are compelled to work against their will through force, fraud, or coercion. Millions of men, women, and children fall victim to human trafficking each year, and seaports have long been identified as potential sites for interrupting labor trafficking.

With their vast infrastructure and diverse workforce, human trafficking can go unnoticed at seaports. The transient nature of port environments, coupled with the sheer volume of cargo and people passing through each day, present challenges for identifying human trafficking victims. It is essential that port employees and visitors learn how to recognize the indicators of human trafficking in ports, especially since traffickers may not permit victims to leave port facilities. The Not Alone campaign is designed to raise awareness about human trafficking and enable victims to get help.

BEST and AAPA are launching the Not Alone awareness campaign in a joint effort to bring together maritime businesses, port authorities, and communities to learn more about the warning signs of human trafficking. The campaign’s primary objectives include:

  • Increasing awareness about the behaviors and indicators of human trafficking at seaports.
  • Encouraging the maritime community to engage in recognizing and reporting suspicious activities.
  • Helping victims see multi-lingual messaging encouraging them to self-identify and contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline so they can be put in touch with local social services, law enforcement, or the U.S. Coast Guard.

The resources for this campaign were made possible by AAPA and BEST, winning first place in the United States Department of Transportation’s 2023 Combating Human Trafficking in Transportation Impact Award. This January, awareness raising materials are being sent to over 70 seaports across the country, ranging from major ports to smaller shipping hubs. By covering such a vast network of seaports, the Not Alone campaign aims to raise awareness and promote vigilance among port employees, local communities, and visiting travelers.

Maritime businesses and seaport employees are encouraged to be involved in the campaign, playing pivotal roles by learning how to recognize the indicators of human trafficking. This participation ensures that the fight against human trafficking is not just a social services effort, but a unified stand that’s being taken by members of the diverse maritime community. The campaign also utilizes public relations to reach as many people as possible and encourages port authorities to work with local media to help raise awareness in the wider community.

“It is hard to admit that such an insidious practice could take place in our community and at our facilities. But it is much worse to ignore it and allow traffickers to continue robbing people of their freedom,” explains Sam Cho, Port of Seattle commission president and Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking member.

“At the Port of Seattle, we have an ongoing commitment to raise awareness about human trafficking and how to prevent it or report it. This is with our employees, but also with travelers passing through our airport or maritime facilities, our current and future tenants, vendors, business and industry partners, and community leaders,” says Cho. “Increasing awareness is a vital first step toward protecting vulnerable people.”

During National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Not Alone campaign can also create a ripple effect in the wider community. By starting conversations, inspiring action, and fostering collaboration, this awareness raising initiative has the power to extend beyond ports.

“The Not Alone campaign helps survivors learn how to get help and assures them that ports support them in seeking freedom,” says Kirsten Foot, CEO & Executive Director for Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking. “BEST, AAPA, the Department of Transportation, maritime businesses, and dozens of port authorities across the nation are all taking a stand against human trafficking. Together we can help stop labor trafficking at sea.”

Katie Amodei is the communications director for the Seattle-based nonprofit, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST). Their goal is to equip employers to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking through awareness raising, consultation, training, and providing employment opportunities for survivors.