Equipping Cabin Crew To Help Prevent Human Trafficking By Airplanes

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Representational picture of an airline cabin crew member and two young passengers. Source: xiamenairlines/Instagram

The United Nations has taken another important step forward in preventing trafficking in persons through the international civil aviation network, with the launch of new guidelines for reporting trafficking in persons by flight and cabin crew.

Developed in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the new guidance builds on the existing ICAO-OHCHR Guidelines for Training Cabin Crew on Identifying and Responding to Trafficking in Persons.

Cabin Crew Crucial

Cabin crew have unique opportunities have to observe passengers over the duration of their flights and potentially identify and assist human trafficking victims, and information from crew reports assists States and operators to identify and respond to cases of trafficking in persons.

All operators should therefore provide training on identifying and responding to trafficking in persons, including training on correct reporting procedures for their cabin crew members, flight crew members and other personnel in direct contact with the travelling public.

However a lack of international standardization led States and the industry itself to approach ICAO and ask for guidance, resulting in the materials that are now available.

The newest guidance includes a standardised reporting form that airline crews can use to report suspected cases of trafficking in persons to law enforcement, while inflight or on the ground.

Gradual Implementation Process

Effective implementation of these guidelines will be a gradual process, requiring collaboration between States, their law enforcement authorities and operators. To encourage this, ICAO has also launched a free e-learning course.

“The entire global aviation community has a key role to play in preventing trafficking in persons,” stressed ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu.

Dr Liu added that the development of the new training, based on the ICAO-OHCHR guidelines provides an important foundation from which we can offer critical capacity-building, and ultimately help put an end to the abuse of international air transport by traffickers.

“Human trafficking is an appalling crime and an appalling violation of victims’ rights. This is why the efforts of the international air transport sector in combatting it are so important. This expansion of training for cabin crew and the wider travel industry is a crucial element in protecting the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The International Labour Office reports that 1-in-200 people worldwide are still being forced into work and living conditions resulting from human trafficking, a practice considered akin to modern slavery.

Reflecting the fact that many of these victims were moved from country to country via commercial aircraft, the ICAO-OHCHR training launched also includes video interviews with trafficking survivors and airlines who already train their cabin crew on this subject.

The new ICAO-OHCHR training to combat trafficking in persons for cabin crew must be supplemented by further airline training on specific internal procedures and practices. The training and the guidance materials highlighted here are accessible to cabin crew members and other aviation professionals through ICAO’s website.

Strong Industry Response

The aviation industry has taken strong action to improve its response to this issue in the past few years.

Both IATA’s resolution denouncing human trafficking and ICAO-OHCHR Guidelines – each adopted in 2018 – have served as wake-up calls for many on the role the aviation industry should play in the identification and referral of trafficked victims.

Partnership is the second key area to explore. Flight attendants, pilots, security screeners and all other actors potentially in contact with passengers should have the means to refer immediately, in each country, any potential victims to professional support services.

Local coordination and referral mechanisms should be put in place to ensure safeguards and timely and effective protection for those in need.


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