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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 2, 2018

Cheryl-Anne Sturken, senior consulting editor for Meetings & Conventions magazineLast month, the Tallahassee-based Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association became the latest organization to throw its full weight against combatting global human trafficking, which the International Labour Organization estimates has become a $150 billion industry, with 40.3 million victims worldwide forced into labor -- the majority of them women and children.

The FRLA, which has 10,000 members statewide, last month launched a free online training course, available in English and Spanish, specifically designed to educate employees in the hotel and restaurant business on how to spot the signs of human trafficking and ways to protect victims, along with offering best practices for promoting anti-trafficking. The course takes about 30-45 minutes to complete.

Geoff Luebkemann, vice president of education and training at FRLAWhile FRLA is not the first organization to shine a spotlight on human trafficking, it is the first hospitality association to create an educational course targeting this serious issue. "We tend to be a groundbreaker and a pioneer in a lot of things," said Geoff Luebkemann, right, vice president of education and training at FRLA, when the Hotel Insider caught up with him. "As human trafficking has gained awareness over the last couple of years, it became an organic extension of what we do in our educational training. And if the reaction from our thought leaders and our board of directions is any indication, it is going to be very well received."

Available online at StopHumanTraffickingFL.com, the FRLA course features research and resources from Washington, D.C.-based Polaris, a global leader in the fight against modern slavery, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the ILO.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Florida is the third-highest trafficking destination in the United States, with 604 cases of trafficking reported in 2017. California was number one with 1,305, followed by Texas with 792 reported cases. According to Luebkemann, those in the hospitality industry must understand that no one is immune.

"In terms of educating myself as we built this course, I have to say my eyes were opened," said Luebkemann. "The biggest myth that was destroyed for me is that trafficking is just about sex. It's not. Labor trafficking is a huge component, and it is not regulated to any one price point or geographic location."

Florida's $111.7 billion hospitality industry, Luebkemann noted, employees 1.4 million employees, which means there is a lot of manpower opportunity to raise the awareness of human trafficking. With the online course up and running, Luebkemann said FR&LA is now turning its attention to the convention industry and looking into how groups can play a role in the fight. "We are exploring, as big groups come to town, how do we make this part of the planning conversation, because it certainly should be. How can we turn all those wonderful people who staff our properties into the eyes and ears that will fight this horrible crime?"