The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance – Benjamin Franklin.
The unbelievable story of a flight attendant who saved a victim of human trafficking blew up on social media in February this year. After observing the suspected victim’s erratic behaviour, Sheila Fedrick felt something was wrong, confirmed the girl was in danger by leaving her a note in the aeroplane bathroom and had police waiting on the ground on arrival at the destination airport.
It was a sensational victory not only in the fight against human trafficking but also in raising awareness around the importance of everyday people being informed, conscious of their surroundings and proactive in helping to identify and report victims of modern slavery.
As incredible as the story is, it also raises some serious questions about what steps, if any, are currently being taken in Australia to combat human trafficking through common transport routes such as aeroplanes.
Importantly, it also raises the issue of whether flight crew should be considered ‘frontline officials’ for the purposes of high-level human trafficking training.
Human trafficking training for flight attendants
In the United States, flight attendants play an important role in combatting human trafficking. The actions of flight crew often prevent victims ever arriving at their intended destination.
After seeing an 18-year-old carry a newborn baby (with the umbilical cord still attached) onto a flight, attendant, Sandra Fiorini, realised that there was a real need for flight crew to be trained in detecting and responding to suspected cases of human trafficking. She wanted to report the incident but did not know how. So she joined forces with the organisation Innocents at Risk to develop the ‘Flight Attendant Initiative,’ a program designed to educate flight attendants in identifying and reporting suspected victims of trafficking or slavery.
Since then, organisations such as Airline Ambassadors have educated flight crew in detecting and responding appropriately to trafficking not only in the United States but also in Europe and countries such as Colombia and Hungary. Airline Ambassadors also created an app called Tip Line which supplements this training by allowing users to record audio and video, take photographs and send evidence to relevant authorities. They work with the Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection to develop programs for airline personnel.
The Blue Lightning Initiative, which is led by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Control, and the Department of Transportation, is an element of the DHS Blue Campaign, which is a key U.S. human trafficking training program. The Blue Lightning Initiative trains airline personnel to identify potential traffickers and human trafficking victims and to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.
In 2013, Delta Airlines became the first airline to begin training all staff about human trafficking.
In the U.S. in July 2016, new laws were made. The FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 was signed by President Obama which requires air carriers to provide initial and annual training for flight attendants in recognising and responding to potential human trafficking victims. Becoming a Blue Lightning Initiative partner and using the virtual training is a simple and effective way for airlines to adhere to the new requirement.
Elsewhere, Europe is also moving toward the implementation of training for flight crew. An amendment to the Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recommended the training of:
personnel employed by various commercial carriers, in particular, airline attendants and staff working on other means of transportation by land and sea, aimed at the identification of trafficked persons, as well as the introduction of measures designed to prevent [human trafficking], including co-ordination between commercial carriers and the State law
enforcement agencies or through other appropriate mechanisms.”
Implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE is, however, made on a political and not legally binding basis. There are currently 57 participating states across Europe, Central Asia and North America.
How Australia deals with human trafficking
Human trafficking is a serious problem that affects every country in the world. Given the far-reaching and damaging repercussions human trafficking has on a global scale, Australia’s current anti-trafficking measures are, in many respects, seriously underdeveloped and lacking focus.
In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur visited Australia and produced a report which analysed Australia’s approach to combatting human trafficking. Concerns were raised about Australia’s method of detection which is primarily through immigration raids that occur in brothels. The Special Rapporteur noted that this approach not only limits the detection of trafficked victims to only one sector but also questioned whether interviewing suspected victims about their immigration status, without the presence of social workers, was effective given their fear of deportation.
In 2013, following the release of the report, changes to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery‑like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 were made and the government implemented a National Action Plan. A spokesperson from the Attorney-General’s Department says:
A key measure of Australia’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-19 is training of frontline officials, including police, prosecutors, labour inspectors, and immigration compliance and visa processing officers, to recognise and respond appropriately to human trafficking and slavery.”
However, an important deficiency in the National Action Plan is that high-level training in identifying and responding to victims of human trafficking is still something that is limited to ‘frontline officers’ in law enforcement and immigration positions.
The Australian Federal Police is responsible for investigating and assessing human trafficking and slavery matters, both proactively and through referrals from other Australian Government or state and territory government agencies, civil society, business and industry, unions or the general public” says a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department.
While the Fair Work Ombudsman and marriage celebrants (who may come across suspected victims in employment or forced marriage situations) receive some training why aren’t airline staff given similar training by the government or their employers?
Current absence of government anti-trafficking awareness training for Australian flight crew and ground staff is unacceptable
More than 70,000 personnel in the U.S. aviation industry have been trained through the Blue Lightning Initiative, and flight crews continue to report actionable tips to law enforcement.
Unlike the U.S., Australia currently has no law which prescribes anti-trafficking training for flight attendants. The Attorney General’s Department made no comment about whether similar legislation to the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 in the U.S. is proposed for Australia.
While the government currently provides ‘information, guidance and awareness-raising materials’ to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force frontline officials, including those officials working at airports and ports, it does not deliver or require specific training for or by organisations that have exposure to victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. Any training that deals with aviation safety must comply with Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulations. When contacted for comment, the Authority’s response was that they do not regulate security on flights.
Staggeringly, as far as reporting suspected victims of human trafficking is concerned, the government does not require any accountability from airlines which are extremely well placed to observe potential victims.
The Australian Government is committed to monitoring and refining the existing tools and guidance used by frontline officers for the identification of suspected victims of trafficking and slavery but does not currently deliver or require specific training for airline staff on this issue. The Government delivers regular training on human trafficking to police and other frontline officials, and has developed a range of guidelines, fact sheets and other publicly available materials aimed at raising awareness” a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department said.
It’s a position that is disappointingly limited and at odds with the National Action Plan which aims to proactively ensure that all cases of suspected human trafficking are identified and reported.
Considering the proven success of U.S. human trafficking training programs for air crew; the positive response from U.S. airline staff who are now able to take an active role in stemming the flow of trafficked victims using air transport routes; as well as the clear benefit to victims who are identified in flight and rescued prior to reaching their intended destination, it is both surprising and disappointing that the government is doing nothing to educate and train Australian flight attendants in proven anti-trafficking measures.
One of the reasons the government has given for not taking a more active role in the management of human trafficking to date is that:
Compared to other jurisdictions such as the United States and Europe, Australia has a comparatively low number of victims of human trafficking and slavery” a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department said.
However, the Special Rapporteur expressed concerns with this approach in her report as the figures of identified victims ‘may under-represent the true number of trafficked persons in Australia’ due to reliance on compliance raids to identify victims.
The eyes are useless when the mind is blind
While the report noted that no victims had been identified in airports in Australia, it goes without saying that a low level of identified victims does not establish that Australia experiences low levels of human trafficking or modern slavery.
On the contrary, low levels of ‘identified’ victims prove only that – that there has been a small number of ‘identified’ victims in Australia. Where airline staff, who are in a position to make a difference, are not given training there is huge potential for traffickers to move faceless unidentified victims past key ports with relative impunity.
The current see nothing, do nothing approach runs the very real risk that a large number of victims will continue to fall through the cracks on primary trafficking routes and key checkpoints.
As proven by the U.S., airline staff – both ground and air crew – have a critical role to play in combating human trafficking as they have direct face-to-face contact with victims and, in the case of flight crew, have many observation opportunities.
Given their client-facing role and unique position to detect potential traffickers and victims (particularly on long haul flights), Australian flight attendants need to be considered similarly to ‘frontline officials’ for the purposes of targeted and robust anti-trafficking awareness training introduced by the Australian government.
In the absence of mandatory government training programs, it is also time for airlines to step up and train their staff in anti-trafficking measures. As there is no legislative requirement to undergo training, nor active education of carriers in their responsibilities to assist in the combat of such crime, any programs spearheaded by an airline would be the sole responsibility of that airline and provided on a voluntary basis.
The government says that everyone has a role to play in identifying trafficked victims and ensuring that those who are most likely to come in contact with suspected victims have the skills to identify and respond appropriately. Anti-trafficking training for flight crew is not only an obvious but also a critical element in the detection and prevention process.
In many ways, Australia’s current state of willful blindness is worse than ignorance because it is a refusal to face the truth rather than just a lack of knowledge.
Human trafficking is an issue involving people movement.
Victims are transported across borders and often moved across the world. It is an international problem that requires a unified and coordinated response among nation states. To be responsible members of the global community, to ensure the continued safety of persons entering or leaving Australia, or crossing borders on international flight paths, we need to face the growing international problem of human trafficking head on.
Flight crews are in a unique and powerful position to make a positive impact in combating human trafficking. It is essential that they are considered as complementary to the work of ‘frontline officials’ and given appropriate training.
With the International Labour Organisation predicting that globally there are 20-million people living in circumstances of forced labour, 9.1 million of whom have been trafficked, there is a very real chance that you may be sitting next to a victim of human trafficking on your next flight. Will your flight crew notice or, if you do, would you know what to do?
*Qantas and Virgin Australia did not respond to a request for comment about what action they are taking to train their staff in human trafficking awareness.
Anti-Slavery Australia has developed an online training course to raise awareness around human trafficking. It was launched in 2014 and is funded by the Australian Government through the Proceeds of Crime program. The training course has been ‘developed for frontline workers from community organisations, government, teachers, health care professionals and law enforcement.’
What do you think? Should Australian airlines be doing more to proactively manage human trafficking? Let us know below!