316 – Government Agencies as Equippers and Influencers Against Trafficking

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Dr. Sandie Morgan is joined by Kirsten Foot as the two discuss the role that government agencies play in equipping and influencing others against trafficking.

Kirsten Foot

Kirsten Foot, PhD, is the CEO and Executive Director of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) which educates employers to prevent  human trafficking, and provides pathways to safe employment for trafficking survivors. BEST offers employers consulting on anti-trafficking strategy development and implementation, video-based and in-person training services, and advisement on communicating about human trafficking with employees, customers, vendors and the public. Kirsten Foot was also a guest on Episode #111 and Episode #310 of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. 

Key Points

  • To prevent human trafficking, the act and crime must be made more costly to traffickers, more expensive financially, and have higher risks and consequences so that they can no longer benefit from it. 
  • BEST aims to drive trafficking out of businesses and the same strategy can be applied in the public sector to help public sector employers drive traffickers off of public property, agencies, and infrastructures. Government agencies have the power to do all of these things, and in turn, make trafficking harder and hurtful to traffickers rather than easy and beneficial. 
  • It is important that businesses cross-train their employees and equip them to observe and report labor trafficking. 
  • It’s important for management of a government agency to be trained as well, in order to support their front-line employees and provide a clear protocol for when a potential case of trafficking is identified. 
  • Government agencies have the power to influence not only residents of the county they’re based in, but many other types of organizations by encouraging businesses that they work with, providing awareness-raising materials, and encouraging leaders to learn and contribute. 



Sandra Morgan 0:14
You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice. This is episode #316: Government Agencies as Equippers and Influencers Against Trafficking, My name is Sandie Morgan and this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Kirsten Foot is back today to discuss how government agencies leverage tools and strategies developed by Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking, the organization she leads to counter human trafficking. Kirsten has a Ph. D. She’s CEO and Executive Director of BEST, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking, and she leads their initiatives to educate employers to prevent human trafficking, and provide pathways to safe employment for trafficking survivors. BEST offers employer consulting on anti-trafficking strategy development and implementation, video based and in-person training, services, and advisement on communicating about human trafficking with employees, customers, vendors and the public. Kirsten has been a guest on episode #111, and episode #310. Kirsten welcome back.

Kirsten Foot 2:01
Thank you, Sandie, it is always good to talk with you. I learn things in our conversations too, I’m just excited to have this chance.

Sandra Morgan 2:09
So I’ve been trying to reconsider the approach that I take to educating my community, and from the beginning of the podcast, a lot of my goals were designed around providing resources. But as I kind of lean into this new season, I want to understand better the “why”, and my students can look up the “what”, they Google it before I can get it out in my classroom, but the “why”, that is the message. So I want to start today with the “why” for BEST, particularly in the context of serving government agencies.

Kirsten Foot 3:03
Well, glad to have the chance to speak to that. It’s a big question, but it’s actually relatively simple. Because if we grasp the fact that human trafficking is ultimately a crime of greed, it’s human rights violation, it’s exploitation in so many ways, but the “why” of human trafficking: Why do people traffic other people? it’s greed. Because they profit from it. Then that means that our efforts to prevent it need to be dedicated to making the activity of human trafficking much more costly to the traffickers, more expensive financially, more difficult, more risky for them. It’s simply too easy. So prevention needs to be thought about as making it much harder for traffickers, and government agencies have such a strong role to play in that. Often, I think people think, “Well, you know, government agencies and trafficking, it’s law enforcement.” That’s what government does, that’s the main thing government does and law enforcement is absolutely essential in countering human trafficking. And so are our government-provided social services. So much of the support for survivors of human trafficking comes from government sources in the federal acts, and other state resources. It’s never enough, but there is government funding for survivors. But my emphasis in my position within BEST is looking at government agencies as employers, as managers of significant amounts of public property, buildings, parks, facilities, libraries, transit systems, infrastructures that have been built with public dollars and that they steward for the public. They have government agencies at the city, county, state and federal level, have so much opportunity for influence over what happens on their properties, through their workforce, and the ways that they influence all the other entities that work around them and with them. The businesses, the non-government organizations, the community organizations, the schools, there’s so many ways in which government agencies are prime for influence, and for equipping of their own employees, as well as all different aspects of the public that they interact with. So that’s the big picture. Curious what you think there as my attempt to explain the “why”.

Sandra Morgan 5:36
I love that. I love that because when we try to look at the issue around greed, and then we just counter it with prison and things like that, we know that those with greater resources may find ways around those kinds of deterrence, and the the reduction is a minor blip on the screen in their world of millions and billions. So making it a financial deterrent, looking at it from that perspective, is flipping the script for sure. I love that.

Kirsten Foot 6:23
Well, let me add one phrase there, a memorable phrase that BEST uses when talking with private sector employers, so businesses, is that BEST is here to help businesses drive trafficking out of business. So, “driving trafficking out of business,” is one of the phrases that BEST uses. But the same is true for the public sector. What does it mean? How do we get public sector employers to drive traffickers off of public property, out of public agencies, off of public infrastructures? The government agencies have so much possibility, and many of them are doing great things to make it much more costly and risky for traffickers to operate on public land, public property, public infrastructure.

Sandra Morgan 7:12
I just look at the changes we’ve seen in the landscape since the passage of the Uyghur Labor trafficking Prevention Act, where now the onus is on the corporate world to prove their supply chains, so that’s flipping the script. There’s lots of good reasons for us to do this and I’m a huge proponent of public-private partnerships. We’ve seen how that has been so effective for organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who were featured during last episode of the podcast. So let’s move to the “how,” and the how is in the title of this episode, we’re talking about equippers and influencers. So tell us how that works.

Kirsten Foot 8:09
Yeah. So as government agency leaders catch the vision for what their realm of influence can be within and through their agency, I see tremendous innovation, and dedication, and really strong leadership, to equip staff within the government agency, to be trained on behavioral indicators of labor trafficking and sex trafficking that they recognize signs when they see it in the context of their agency’s purview. I’ll give you a few examples of that bit, but also to to recognize their role as leaders in our society, to influence the culture, influence the public in its awareness of the various forms that human trafficking takes and the multiple types of coercion, of the dozens of aid of industries in which human trafficking is happening, as well as to influence businesses and others through incentivizing them to do the right thing, to step up and take leadership, to demonstrate as public agencies the leadership that any organization can take, and that every organization should take to lead within their realm. I’ve got lots of examples, but we can start just with airports. Think about airports as public agencies. In many states across the country now, airport leadership has taken the initiative to put signage in public spaces, in restroom stalls and various types of publicly visible places to raise awareness on the issue of human trafficking and to address potential victims that may be in the airport facility under duress, or actually being coerced right then. So that’s just that act of signage in airports, it’s happening in many airports across the country. That’s an example of a government agency, the port that oversees the airport, that entity, taking leadership, taking advantage of the opportunity it has to use its premises as a place to message against human trafficking, and provide resources, hotline numbers, protocols within the airport, to interrupt trafficking as it’s happening. With time, over time, that kind of, we call it “inhospitality,” being inhospitable to trafficking in airports, makes it harder and more risky for traffickers to see an airport as an easy place to be. We want to make it difficult for traffickers to have their victims in airports and think they can be undetected. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the signage is just the beginning. What really matters in airports around the country, just keeping with that example, is when airport leadership train their staff and make training available to all the vendors, all of the shop owners, the businesses that operate within the airport and that service the airport. When all of those people are influenced by the leadership of an airport to also get trained so that their employees know what to look for, and know what to do when they see instances that could be human trafficking, then you’re watching an airport, as a government entity, influence so many private sector organizations that are always there, and on its premises and working together. That’s when you really start to see a multiplier effect, that a government agency can lead. That’s just one example, but it is happening in many airports, it needs to happen in every airport.

Sandra Morgan 11:42
We did a training for our airport and one of the questions that one of the higher level managers asked me is, “Okay, so we are looking for potential victims who are being trafficked through the airport, but you’re describing some behavioral indicators that I think we might be seeing in third party contractors who are here doing cleaning, serving in some of the vendor areas. So how do you see this impacting actually, the employment practices in the airport?”

Kirsten Foot 12:28
In any space, not just airports, but all businesses are vulnerable to contractors with zero integrity and high exploitation, of being taken advantage of. Even a high integrity employer can be taken advantage of by a labor broker that’s bringing in employees through illicit contracts, or no contracts, that are actually being forced to work in that facility. It’s not just airports, not just public entities, that can happen anywhere, and it is happening in so many places. So it is part of what needs to happen. Every public entity has a good reason to want all of its vendors that use its premises to be trained, to recognize indicators of human trafficking, in case their very own shop within a public space is being exploited in that way, where people are being exploited through wrongful contracts, or lack of contracts for work in that area.

Sandra Morgan 13:28
So let’s look at a couple of examples of how this works and what the training entails. So I know that you guys have worked with Washington State Department of Ecology, and can you describe the ports to freedom training?

Kirsten Foot 13:48
Yeah, well, this is actually a really exciting example because among the industries for which BEST has developed industry-specific training, the maritime industry is one of them. So the name of BEST training for any employer in the maritime industry, public or private sector, is Ports of Freedom. It is a specific training, that is specific for the kinds of risks that employers in the maritime trades face, as we know that human trafficking is happening in every aspect of Port based work. It’s shipping cargo, cruise vessels, fishing vessels, there are an increasing number of validated cases of people being trafficked for their labor, exploited without pay, in those aspects of the marine trades. So every port, and every business that works in ports, is vulnerable to being complicit in that and has the opportunity to recognize it when they’re seeing it. What happened just in the last year with Washington State’s Department of Ecology was just a phenomenal example of government agency leadership. A few people in the Department of Ecology, in the area, the division that oversees oil spill prevention efforts, so people who are environmental disaster prevention inspectors, the leaders of that department had access to BEST reports to freedom training. When they saw that training, they realized that over the last few years, their environmental inspectors had been talking about things they’d seen on the ships they boarded, that indicated something very wrong, very amiss in terms of the labor conditions of some of the people on some of those ships, they were there to inspect for oil prevention, but they noticed indicators of labor exploitation, and they didn’t know what to call it, they didn’t have any way to to define it or report it in a clear way, but when the leaders of that division of the Department of Ecology saw BEST ports to freedom training, they recognized that what some of their inspectors had been observing was actually indicators of labor trafficking. So the Washington State Department of Ecology Oil Spill Prevention Division, has partnered with BEST to ensure that all, hundreds, of their oil spill prevention experts get cross training, crossed from their environmental expertise on labor trafficking, on sex trafficking as it can happen as well, but really emphasizing the behavioral indicators of labor exploitation that they may be seeing on the ships they board when they board to look for oil prevention. I find that just a phenomenal vision and creative, strategic thinking on the part of the leaders of that division, of that government agency. When I started here at BEST, I wanted to be sure to meet those people, that pair of people, and ask them who their counterparts are in California, and in Oregon, and in British Columbia, and over on the east coast, and on the Gulf Coast. So gradually here, BEST is working on reaching out to individuals in each of those state agencies and state and provincial agencies as well. Because any agency that has people boarding ships, has the capacity to watch for, observe, and learn how to report safely and effectively, the indicators of labor exploitation, maybe human trafficking, that they see in the ship setting.

Sandra Morgan 17:36
So when I started engaging with business leaders, whether government or private, some of the resistance that I encountered, was the amount of time away from work their employees would have to take, because that’s a financial consideration. So you always want to count the costs. So let’s talk about what the training entails, and then what kind of accommodations you need to make to train your staff that’s on the front line. The guy in the office on the 12th floor probably isn’t going to see this, although it’s possible, it’s more likely that the frontline folks are going to be most able to encounter and report.

Kirsten Foot 18:31
Yes, that’s very true. So the training that BEST provides for people in any industry is always kept to 30 minutes. As you know, single base training, there’s always room for more. Many agencies, government agencies, have asked us to train not just their employees with the 30 minute training, but to do a “train the trainer’s,” to have q&a sessions with their employees that go beyond what’s presented in the introductory training. Because they know that for employees to feel fully equipped, to recognize the indicators to report well, but also to have confidence in their management, that when they report to the management, that the management is going to support them and recognize with them, and help them think through what they saw and what needs to happen, depending on the urgency or emergent nature of the situation. We can say yeah, it’s just 30 minutes for everyone, and that’s true, and that’s good, and in many cases, it’s not sufficient, because leadership needs to be trained as well. At least, there needs to be a response team among management and leadership, to whom if any kind of trafficking potential situation is reported, that there’s a clear protocol within the organization of who else is going to need to know and how that employee will be supported in their reporting. Beyond an emergency call the 911, what else is being reported and what vulnerabilities in that government agencies’, property, or premises, or operations, does that report reveal? That the leadership then need to take action on. So this is why BEST offers strategy consulting for organizations, partnered with a number of different state, county, and local government agencies in Washington and other states, to help leadership develop the strategy that their particular agency needs, and figure out a plan for implementation. Training is a key part of that, but I would say it’s necessary and not sufficient on its own. Because, again, employees need to know that their management is with them, and that there’s a very strong support from leadership in the organization for what will happen when reports are made, or when potential situations that are sometimes hard to parse, when that’s brought to management, how will there be both support for the employee and a clear set of response decisions and communication, to protect that employee, report quickly when it’s necessary, and take stock of what’s happening in the property, or the office, or the operations that this reveals.

Sandra Morgan 21:05
That really resonates so much with what I’ve been learning, Kirsten. I’ve gone in and done training, and two things happen. I go back a year later, and it’s different people. The people that I trained to begin with were passionate, they had wonderful intentions, good intentions, but there’s not much left of the structure that we thought we had put into place by training in areas like identification, safe intervention, and other kinds of protocols. So we began to understand how critical it is, at the beginning stage, to start the process to operationalize those good intentions in written policies that then continue to replicate what you’ve established. So how, and what can you do to assist people in not having to start from the ground up with those kinds of policies?

Kirsten Foot 22:19
Sandie, you just hit the nail on the head. That’s what needs to happen. For strategy development, there are certain things that are going to be based, core elements in any organization, whether it’s a business or a public sector, government agency, premise based or operations based, there’s a set of core things. But beyond that, there are practices that need to be put in place. There’s policies, and there’s practices, and having internal communication that is consistent, meaningful, coherent for employees of you know, “Here’s how we’re talking about that.” This is what human trafficking is, here’s what it’s not. We’re looking for behavioral indicators of force, fraud, or coercion, in any form of work or sex. And if a minor is involved, we’re dealing with an entirely other situation, but there are core elements of that, that are true for every organization, and there are specific decisions to be made by each organization, depending on its particular opportunities and vulnerabilities, given its location, its premises, its operations, and the various types of turnover and leadership that are in place for that organization. So BEST works with organizations to help that strategy development phase that is both, a set of things that BEST recommends as best practices for every employer, and there’s a delineated list of best practices, and they need to be customized for each employer for ultimate impact or optimal impact within that organization.

Sandra Morgan 23:52
Okay, so I like stories, and I was really encouraged by learning about having signs at rest areas in Washington. Tell me when that started and what kind of out put you’ve experienced?

Kirsten Foot 24:16
It actually started many years ago. I want to say back in 2014, even. The Washington State Department of Transportation has been phenomenal in its embracing of its opportunity and responsibility to make use of the state funded rest areas on the major interstates across the state of Washington. As a place where all different kinds of people are making use of facilities, and where there is space for public signage behind Plexiglas as well as inside restroom stalls. From more than a decade ago, various nonprofits have worked with the State of Washington’s Department of Transportation to create a couple of different generations of messaging, poster-type messaging in rest areas. But what is really exciting is that the most recent version of this that has now rolled out, implemented in every rest area in the state of Washington, all of its major highways, is an awareness raising campaign that was designed by a survivor. It’s titled “Not Alone,” “You are not alone,” is the message. There are multi-language posters, one set that is addressed to people who may be experiencing labor trafficking, and another set that are addressed to people who may be experiencing sex trafficking. But the message is, “You are not alone. There’s help available,” it’s in multiple languages, and it is now displayed in every rest area in the state of Washington, thanks to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s leadership and creative thinking, and willingness to cooperate and work really well with other government agencies and with nonprofits, including BEST. BEST led the “Not Alone” campaign with Washington State Department of Transportation, to get those posters in Washington State rest areas. It’s just terrific the way that they’ve engineered it, how to make those posters safe. There’s been a lot of vandalism of anti-trafficking posters in rest areas over the last decade, and now there’s some really good engineering to make sure that signage lasts as long as possible.

Sandra Morgan 26:29
I have to brag a little bit on our home base here in Orange County, our Department of Transportation did “Be the One” campaign with bus wraps and posters in buses. It has been a great example of your lead comments about being influencers. I think that’s not something we’ve talked about from either the public or private sector. Can you give us a little more understanding of ‘influencer’ in this context?

Kirsten Foot 27:09
So in a very concrete way, government agencies by using their property, their premises, whether it’s rest areas, buses, library foyers, the waiting area of every government agency, that’s city, state, county, has space for signage. When they choose to dedicate some of that real estate of messaging space, to anti trafficking messaging, they are influencing the culture. They’re influencing public, they’re raising awareness at a scale that no single employer could do. They’re doing it in a way that’s saying, “We are government, we care, and we think everybody should care. Here’s how we want you to be aware of this and here’s what we want you to do with it.” So that’s just one way but then, at a higher level, as government agencies that interact with businesses, so the Department of Labor and Industry, for example, in Washington State, in many states, has the opportunity to influence, to encourage businesses that it works with by providing access to awareness-raising materials, by encouraging business leaders to learn about this and get on board and be part of a city-wide campaign, or a county level coalition. Those are also ways that I see government agencies influencing many, many other types of organizations.

Sandra Morgan 28:29
Wow, I just looked at the time and Kirsten, we’ve been friends for a long time, so we could keep going. But I know somebody who commutes and listens to this podcast, and they just hate it when we’re not done and they get to their destination. So last question, how do people find these resources?

Kirsten Foot 28:55
BEST’s website is bestalliance.org, and resources on the Not Alone campaign are there to be downloaded, resources about the consulting and training opportunities that best offers are also available through the website, and anyone can contact info@bestalliance.org for any further info. I’d happily talk with anyone from a government agency or anyone else that wants to think together about how employers, either public or private sector, can be better equipped. If your own employer is open to thinking about what its strategy needs to be, how it can communicate better, and what it can do to equip and influence others, please give me a call

Sandra Morgan 29:35
Alright. Thank you so much for coming on today. And thank you for listening today. I’d love to invite some feedback. I know other organizations are doing this in their areas. I’ve seen it in Madrid, Spain. I’ve seen it in Arizona. So I would love to invite you to send us your feedback at feedback@ending human trafficking.org, or come on to our social media and tell us what you guys are doing in this space to equip government agencies, and those who are influencing our movement against trafficking, and changing our culture. I look forward to seeing you again in two weeks and I encourage you to come online and look at the show notes to see the links that Kirsten and I have talked about today. Have a great week.

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