A TED Talk Review of Nikki Clifton’s “3 ways businesses can fight sex trafficking”


Atlanta, GA’s illegal sex trade made $290 million per year at last report. In her TED Talk, “3 ways businesses can fight sex trafficking,” Nikki Clifton tells us that’s more than Atlanta's illegal gun and drug trades make combined. Conferences and major sporting events cause a spike in sales, too. Clifton is an attorney and government affairs advocate who represents the United Parcel Service's (UPS) interests. When the attorney general of GA called requesting UPS to sponsor anti-trafficking billboards during the final four basketball tournament hosted in Atlanta in 2013, Clifton agreed. But she wanted to do more, so she did what all of us can do. She started within her immediate, daily habitat: her workplace.

I believe that, if we’re going to be serious about sex trafficking, we can’t legislate or arrest our way out of modern day slavery. If we really want to end sex trafficking in the US, we have to systematically educate and target demand, and I think the business community is in the perfect position to do just that.
— Nicole "Nikki" Clifton, UPS Vice President, Government Affairs Advocate, Attorney, TED Speaker

Clifton describes the stereotypical customer in the sex trafficking industry, also called a “John.” Except, she says, there is no stereotype. In 2012, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), which is one of Dressember's 2018/2019 grant partners, did a study of Seattle-based Johns. The age range is enormous, from 18- to 84-years-old. They work at local businesses. They admit to paying for sex when traveling for work, going to sporting events, and when in the military. But perhaps the most shocking fact is that online sex trafficking sales spike at 2:00 P.M.—in the middle of the work day.

“But there is one universal truth,” Clifton states emphatically. “No John, no buyer, no victim.” If Johns are buying during the workday, companies can explicitly prohibit that.

Clifton shares three ways to fight human trafficking, as a business:

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"That's right, I'm saying that your handbook has to specifically give an example that says no sex-buying while you're traveling, at the international trade show, because that's where it's happening." And Clifton doesn't leave it there, she demands follow-through. The enforcement is equally important to the policy. Studies indicate from Johns that the best deterrent from sex buying is public humiliation and embarrassment. "So, businesses who catch Johns buying sex, using company-based equipment or company resources, but cut them a break or sweep it under the rug and don't fire them, are complicit in fueling demand."

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Working with UPS, Clifton thought of their 100,000 plus drivers, travelling American roads. Highways have become modern-day slave routes. UPS partnered with a Colorado-based organization called Truckers Against Trafficking to educate their drivers to look for red flags. They provide them with a hotline to report indications of trafficking—like girls knocking on truck cab windows—to law enforcement. Clifton emphasizes the need for men educating other men, "Because sometimes, Johns don't even know that they're purchasing [sex from] girls who are enslaved.”

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Visa, MasterCard, and American Express refused to process purchases from Backpage.com, an online sex purchasing site that made $9 million a month before it was shut down. Delta Airlines offers air miles to human trafficking survivors, helping them escape traffickers and get back to their families. "Hiring survivors is another way that any company can help," Clifton reminds us.

Educating and equipping businesses to fight trafficking is what BEST is all about. Dressember's grant will go toward BEST's education of the hospitality sector on signs of trafficking, since so much of sex trafficking activity occurs in conjunction with hotels and hotel rooms. BEST recognizes as essential those national efforts aiding victims and survivors of trafficking. However, BEST hopes to keep trafficking from ever occurring in the first place.

BEST was created to PREVENT this violence against children, women, and men.
— www.bestalliance.org

What about you? Could your workplace implement education and policy to stop sex trafficking before it begins? If you think creatively, perhaps your workplace possesses unique resources—like Delta, UPS, and the various financial service companies mentioned above—that could save someone from human trafficking. Clifton finishes her TED Talk by saying, "Together, we can all protect our children, we can educate the work forces around us and improve society, where we all live and work with John." She's right: we do all live and work with John. But if businesses implement Clifton's ideals, perhaps the John we work with won't be a John anymore.

But there is one universal truth - no John, no buyer, no victim.
— Nikki Clifton


Raise your voice against slavery this December!

Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!

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About the Author

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Lucas Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. He likes Neo-noir films, running and cycling, classic American novels, small venue music shows, and burritos.