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A New Front in the Fight Against Human Trafficking


By Isabela Molitor Silva

There is a new UN partner in the fight against international human trafficking and it’s an agency you might never have heard of before: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The ICAO is a UN specialized agency that defines the regulations and standards of international aviation to ensure safety, security, and efficiency in air travel.

It is because of the universal standards set by the ICAO that a pilot can land an airplane in any location in the world without learning a different system of rules each time. The existence of global aviation standards assures safety to the traveling public and allows mail, goods, and products to be efficiently transported around the globe.

Most recently, the ICAO has used its influence and mandate to foster cooperation on an issue of direct U.S. national interest – human trafficking. Second only to drugs, as the most lucrative transnational crime, human trafficking has become an issue of increasing global concern. It is estimated that 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide. Questions about the role of airlines in combatting this problem have emerged following reports of flight attendants spotting victims and their traffickers in airplanes.

As a result, the ICAO, together with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has developed new guidelines for human trafficking training for airline personnel, aiming at making the training mandatory worldwide. This would enable airline staff to identify and report potential victims and their traffickers to authorities.

According to Reuters, the United States already requires this type of training for air cabin crew and 70,000 U.S. airline staff have completed the training. However, in most countries the training is still not required. This is where the ICAO steps in, to establish international guidelines to improve the safety and security of air travel.

The guidelines will be introduced on May 28 during the ICAO forum on human trafficking in aviation. Although the ICAO cannot demand that countries follow the guidelines, it has a unique ability as a UN agency to push other countries to comply to updated standards due to its global mandate and legitimacy. And hopefully, the creation of this new standard against human trafficking will reduce the problem worldwide.