Boston Business Journal, June 30, 2017

By Jesse Mermell and JD Chesloff

The business community gets convened with great frequency. Our organizations, and our peers in this ecosystem, spend a lot of time in the same rooms. Every once in a while, one of these meetings turns your worldview on its head. We recently attended such a meeting.

Last month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey convened a group of business leaders to discuss a topic neither of us would have considered a business imperative: sex trafficking. A moral imperative, sure. But what does sex trafficking have to do with business?

Here’s what we learned: According to Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking (BEST) — an advocacy group formed to “use the power of business to prevent human trafficking” — the most frequent age of entry into prostitution in Boston is 14 years old. Fourteen.

This isn’t something happening somewhere else; it’s happening right here in our own backyard. An average of 20,000 ads for paid sex are posted online every month in Boston, and each of those ads receives an average of 52 responses. And if that isn’t alarming enough, the peak time that people are searching for sex online is 2:00 p.m. — right in the middle of the workday.

When law enforcement placed decoy ads, they were able to trace 13 percent of responses back to Boston-area businesses. That means that employees may be using company resources — phones or computers — to arrange for paid sex while they’re on the clock.

Sex trafficking is a business issue.

Local leaders are taking note, and taking action. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Governor Charlie Baker all recently announced anti-human trafficking policies, including, as large employers in the state, “zero-tolerance” policies in their workplaces. And now Attorney General Healey and Mayor Walsh are asking the business community for help. BEST offers recommendations for businesses looking to combat sex trafficking:

  1. Gain the commitment of executive leadership to engage with the Boston Employer Alliance, being launched later this year;
  2. Complete a confidential online assessment ( www.bestalliance.org/ma-assessment); and
  3. Implement best practices prioritized from the self-assessment.

Nationally, employers are stepping up. Marriott, Carlson (owner of brands such as Radisson and TGI Friday’s), Caeser’s Entertainment, Skanska, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, Google and Costco have all taken actions to combat sex trafficking, including raising awareness, supporting programs, donating resources and adopting strong anti-trafficking policies. Here in Massachusetts, the attorney general and the Boston mayor have created a path for businesses to act by conceiving of the BEST Boston Employer Alliance, with a series of events culminating in an official public launch in September, including opportunities for employers to engage in BEST’s three action steps.

Healey has said that “…human trafficking is not a victimless crime. It is the exploitation of human beings.” In many instances, this exploitation has roots in the workplace, in employers of every size, industry, and corner of the state. When we walked into the room with the Mayor and Attorney General a few weeks ago, our role wasn’t clear to us. Now it is: Employers must join the fight against human trafficking.

Jesse Mermell is president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, and JD Chesloff is executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.