Drivers’ ‘eyes and ears’ can help stamp out human trafficking

Canada observes Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22, and members of the trucking industry are keen to help stamp out the exploitative crime.

It is important to educate drivers to look for signs of the crime taking place along highways, rest areas and truck stops, panelists said during a discussion at the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario’s annual conference in Brampton, Ont.

“Drivers are the eyes and ears of the industry and can help put an end to human trafficking,” said Laura Dickenson, vice-president – safety and compliance, Day & Ross.

Picture of a trailer wrapped in anti-human trafficking messaging
Shelley Walker, Samantha Clarke and Brian Pattison with a Northern Academy of Transport Training trailer wrapped with an anti-human trafficking message. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Samantha Clarke, director of commercial solutions for Knowledge Surge, said the institute has been training students for the past two years on how to look for signs of the crime and report it. Survivor-led training is eye-opening and tough to undergo, but is needed to get the point across, she added.

Whilna Stewart-Franklin, community relations manager, UPS, says it is more impactful when someone tells you it is real and not something you see on television. “It is a multi-billion industry of exploitation, and we have opportunity to set an example to help crush it.”

If an opportunity to flourish is stopped, the crime will end and potential victims will be saved, she added.

Heather Mawhinney, director of human resources with Kriska Holdings, said drivers were receptive to the training and it opened the door for conversation. “It sparks dialogue and they wanted to know what else they could do to help. They also take the information home and share it,” she said.

Women participating in a discussion on stage.
From left, Shelley Walker, Samantha Clarke, Laura Dickenson, Whilna Stewart-Franklin, and Heather Mawhinney. (Photo: Leo Barros)

The courses are free and available online, discussion moderator Shelley Walker, CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada added.

Stewart-Franklin said UPS has also trained 3,000 pilots so they can spot and report signs of human trafficking at airports. The training does not take long to complete, and employees are requesting it, she added.

She said the company delivers millions of packages daily. Drivers are on the same routes, interact with customers and know when something is not right. Offering them human trafficking awareness training is an extension of safety training and leads to a safer community. “It will not allow this scourge to take hold in a neighborhood,” Stewart-Franklin said.

Leadership investment

Mawhinney said a human trafficking survivor spoke at a company conference and it make a difference across the whole organization.

It is important for a company’s leadership to invest time and money to combat the crime and ensure all levels of staff are invested, Stewart-Franklin said. Supporting survivors and programs is also important, she added.

Raising awareness

One way of raising awareness is by wrapping trailers with messaging. Dickenson said Day & Ross has wrapped two bright orange trailers to raise awareness and Clarke said Knowledge Surge has received positive feedback on its trailer that highlights the issue.

There could also be a light at the end of a tunnel of despair. Stewart-Franklin said companies could become safe harbors for victims of trafficking. “Our vehicles are everywhere and a person looking for help can trust one of us.” Criminals might rethink doing business in places frequented by vehicles of companies that have employees trained to fight the malaise. “Any one of us can help make a difference,” she added.

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