International Transport

Modern slavery

Modern slavery in international transport mostly concerns human trafficking, as people can be forcibly transported across borders via airplanes, buses, trains and ferries.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose. As a hidden crime, hard data on trafficking is elusive. According to estimates, about 60% of trafficking victims are forced to cross borders, mostly by means of international transporting companies, meaning that transport is a major element of the trafficking industry. Estimates also show that more than a quarter of trafficking victims are children.

Bus and train stations are used as potential recruitment spots by traffickers as they are often frequented by homeless people, especially youths, who are looking for shelter and are easy targets for exploitation. At the same time, major transportation hubs like airports, as well as bus and train stations, are key points for identifying victims and raising public awareness.

#EyesOpen against human trafficking

Estimates show that about 60% of trafficking victims are transported across borders, a large number of them by air. Airlines have therefore started collective action and training and sensitization programmes to fight human trafficking. The industry-wide training program by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called #EyesOpen, aims at sensitizing airline staff about the issue and raising public awareness.

An airline agent saved two teenagers from human trafficking

An airline agent identified two teenage girls at Sacramento airport as potential trafficking victims. The two girls acted conspicuously and wanted to fly to another city without a return flight, saying they were invited for a photo shoot by a stranger.

The airline agent reacted quickly and called in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Airport Bureau. According to the Sheriff’s Bureau, whose representative spoke with the girls after they were denied entrance to the flight, it was likely that they were victims of attempted human trafficking. 

Human trafficking and the transportation industry

“Traffickers may recruit victims from bus and train stations and will utilize transportation systems to both bring new victims to their trafficking operations as well as to transport current victims to different places where they will be trafficked and abused. Therefore, mass transportation hubs like airports are key points for victim identification, and public awareness.”

Hero Flight Attendant Saves Girl From Human Trafficking (Good Morning Britain)

Shelia Frederick talks about how she managed to save a young girl from being abducted aboard a flight to San Francisco.

Delta draws attention to signs of human trafficking

Delta Air Lines has launched a new in-flight video focused on how to spot human trafficking.

The video is part of the airline’s broader effort to help fight sexual exploitation and forced labor. Already, the company has trained 56,000 of its employees on signs to watch for on flights or in airports.

The video began airing this month as one of the choices on Delta’s in-flight entertainment system and will run through February. The airline is working to raise awareness of human trafficking with the Super Bowl coming to Atlanta.

“It is a global issue,” said Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service Allison Ausband, who oversees flight attendants. “With our reach [with international routes], we have the opportunity to make a difference.”

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate modern slavery provisions in Supplier Code of Conduct to be signed by airlines (business partners).
  • Encourage airline business partners to endorse the UK Modern Slavery Act, as has been done by various airlines.

Training and capacity building

  • Encourage transport business partners to train staff on how to identify human trafficking and respond to potential incidents. Training should be adapted to specific business environment as interventions to prevent trafficking depend on the type of transportation utilized and the trafficking business model (cf. Polaris).
  • Training tools on human trafficking:

Communication and reporting

  • Report on how your company deals with modern slavery risks related to international transportation (Modern Slavery Statements (UK)).
  • Provide and distribute material on how to identify and react to a situation of human trafficking.
  • Encourage business partners to provide and distribute prevention materials accessible to individuals travelling in trafficking situations (cf. Polaris).

Sector collaboration

Grievance mechanisms

  • Promote helplines and hotlines, where incidents of human trafficking can be reported (e.g. ECPAT campaign "Don't look away" to report on the sexual exploitation of children).

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.