We, the oil and gas industry, have been rising up to fight the global boom in labor and sex trafficking, estimated to generate $150 billion annually, and I am one of those using my voice and network to push awareness and action for professionals with the pro bono group I started last year called RedM.
Why, because it is a subject we cannot ignore!
Today we have more slaves than at any time in history and trafficking is happening all around our global and local businesses and lives, but we have not been aware of what we were seeing. You will not be able to unsee it when you become aware, and you will be compelled to “do something.”
Hitting close to home.
Researchers estimate that we are seeing from 25 to 40 million people globally trapped in modern-day slavery. The University of Texas at Austin did a study in 2016 identifying 313,000 people as trafficked, just in the state of Texas. The numbers are hard to qualify, but the evidence is overwhelming that society has been misled to believe they are looking at “normal” happenings. Vulnerability and access to victims drives the supply in the United States. It also appears to experts that currently 75 percent of sex trafficking in the U.S. involves American citizens. One in four of the victims are children, often targeted and slowly groomed for sex trafficking in the 12- to 14-year-old range. The age of social media has opened traffickers’ supply chain to subtly build trust among children and connect them to new older “friends” and influencers. Do I have your attention?
You are part of the equation.
Demand + Supply + Weak Laws + Your Disinterest = A Business worth Hundreds of Billions of Dollars
Demand: This human “inventory” is proving to be easy to manipulate and mentally control for traffickers, using a keen understanding of how to get compliance from the vulnerable using force, fraud or coercion. A high demand in a society with a common exposure to pornography, which develops a hunger for real experiences with low barriers of risk, the opportunity for traffickers is financially attractive.
Supply: On the supply end of the equation available vulnerable human “product” is no longer pulled from countries in poverty with corrupt systems, but coming from within our own borders. They use mind control techniques that leave the victims unaware that they have been manipulated, believing that this was a choice. They use fear to make sure no victim is willing to fight back.
Weak Laws: The business is booming, somehow unhindered and unnoticed by society and not punished by our legal system, yet thriving, in sexually oriented businesses fed by human trafficking.
Your Disinterest Here you are, in the middle of one of the worst human atrocities of our planet’s history, clueless. Not anymore.
Where were you when…?
We need to ask questions of ourselves, our friends and our society. This is not just an issue for governments, industries or non-profits to solve on their own. It must be exposed and responded to by each one of us. This requires us all to work together. It requires us to become more aware and to act in some way to give a voice to those who have been silenced through fear to find escape and recovery from this insidious crime against humanity.
Sex trafficking is a subset of a bigger crime we also need to be aware of, Labor trafficking. Beware of any place the prices are surprisingly low. Our personal openness to a surprisingly low margin without question of how it could be, extends in to my own industry’s openness to low pricing. We all have developed a willingness to turn a blind eye to our supply chain’s sources which is at the core of this challenging area. At this point Europe is legislating against such practices. Some oil companies are starting to ask why we don’t have this as a common practice across our industry.
In 2017, the Oil and Gas Trafficking Advocacy Group (OGTAG) was launched to help raise awareness about trafficking and the role the industry can play in ending modern-day slavery. I am a supporter of OGTAG and attend meetings. OGTAG also works with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) to help us all build awareness and action within our companies.
But why sex trafficking?
The shocking reality of this crime is that it all occurs in plain sight. The issue came to the attention of senior leaders in our industry when it happened to their own families. It took bravery, as they resisted the threats, fear and intimidation of exposing the traffickers, and they spoke up. A number of actual cases exist of victims coming from wealthy and healthy families in our own Houston suburbs.
For me it became more real a friend told me the story of how he had to recover his own daughter.
In plain sight
OGTAG members have witnessed an abundance of foreign prostitutes in industry-frequented hotels, restaurants and bars when they are on business trips. As I heard the stories of others, I realized I witnessed this too, in my 25 years of international oilfield travel. I just didn’t know what I was seeing in the familiar lobbies and restaurants and streets.
Realizing these were not some person using “the oldest profession” to help their financial predicament, but actually sex-trafficked women you begin to see that this is big and globally active. The use of force fraud and coercion keeps them smiling and performing their stories of why they “chose” this life. This is done while they cover their fear and forced actions for survival, paying off a forced debt, or protection of their threatened loved ones.
Trafficking has not only targeted oilfield international hubs but is prominent in our industry capital, Houston. A study of Houston websites promoting sexual services identified three times more illicit massage parlors than Starbucks coffee shops.
RedM – birth of a movement
In February 2018 I got closer to the challenges of intensive and expensive human recovery. I started working on the Board of Directors for Redeemed Ministries. They are doing the difficult work of recovering the minds and hearts of survivors of sex trafficking. It caused me to start a collective movement called RedM.
RedM is a professionals based pro bono, crowdsourcing movement of people who offer networks, influence, and skills that help the funding process. Events, marketing, networking all done as a part of our own personal redemption of our professions in giving back.
RED stands for Respect, Empowerment and Development for the survivors, and M for a pro bono Movement.
The first meeting had 50 attendees, 48 of which knew nothing about this problem. It quickly became a movement. RedM has grown and now puts on regular “Red Talks” in Houston to educate and impact the fight against trafficking.
Texas business reaction
In 2019, the Texas Secretary of State re-launched the Texas Businesses Against Trafficking program to gain support from businesses. Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick is asking for more from the industry in helping combat human trafficking.
It is clear human trafficking is an issue with ties to all industries, including the one we work in. I challenge you to take one step to do something after reading this.
The 18th- and 19th-century British abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Now that you know, what can you do?
The actions that individuals and companies can take are simple.
- Attend a RedM event (redmove.org or check out RedM’s LinkedIn page for upcoming event info or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Attend an industry group
- Learn how to identify the trafficking signs via the Be The One campaign
- Report suspicious activity by calling Polaris (1-888-373-7888) or 911
- Volunteer with organizations such as Elijah Rising, The Landing, Redeemed Ministries and Rescue Houston
- Donate to an anti-trafficking organization
- Adopt policies to raise awareness about human trafficking
- Mandate training in the supply chain through initiatives such as Truckers Against Trafficking
- Educate employees
- Ensure employee assistance programs have resources for helping buyers overcome addiction
- Donate to local organizations
- Join Texas Businesses Against Trafficking or similar groups in your area
- Join OGTAG email@example.com