JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s Attorney General Josh Hawley on Tuesday announced a new coalition of Missouri businesses from across the Show-Me State joining together to fight human trafficking.
It’s Hawley’s latest initiative in the mission to crack down on human trafficking in Missouri, which, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, has the 16th highest amounts of human trafficking cases reported in the nation in 2017. The FBI has identified St. Louis as one of the top 20 cities for human trafficking in the country and Kansas City was identified as another major center in Missouri.
“When I ran for office, I promised to take decisive action to combat the scourge of human trafficking in the state of Missouri and protect those who are most vulnerable and affected by it – especially women in our state,” Hawley said.
“Today, I am announcing the launch of our business counsel against human trafficking,” he continued. “We want to help every business in this state train their employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of human trafficking and then be able to take action against it.”
He announced several Missouri businesses have already joined the council, notably Missouri American Water, Truman Medical Center, Schnuck’s Markets, the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association, the Municipal League, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
The businesses who have committed to joining the fight do so as the Attorney General has turned his efforts to locating perpetrators who have been hiding using their businesses as fronts or using company property to facilitate the trafficking of individuals.
“In July, we spearheaded what we believe to be the largest anti-trafficking raid in Missouri history, targeting a series of businesses in southwest Missouri and extending to three other states that were acting as fronts for human trafficking,” Hawley said. “We had 13 businesses that held themselves out to the public as legitimate businesses, but were acting as fronts in human trafficking.”
The new coalition is designed to unite business leaders so that they can work together to increase the availability of training, particularly in industries that are considered to be the most likely to encounter situations of human trafficking. For Hawley, creating the business council is only one step to address such a crime.
“This is one thing businesses can do in Missouri to discourage and turn back this behavior is to say, ‘Not on our time. Not on our resources,’” Hawley said. He hopes his actions will inspire businesses “to send a clear message to their employees that this is illegal, contributing to a system of injustice, and we are against it.”
Specifically, Hawley identified Backpage – an online classifieds website, similar to Craigslist – to be a facilitator for human trafficking. In May, he acted on information to investigate the company and in August Backpage filed a lawsuit against him, which he says was “an attempt to stop the investigation. Well, that effort has failed; our investigation is active, it is ongoing. We have uncovered evidence – some of it not foreseen in the public domain – that links Backpage to illegal trafficking activity and we are pressing ahead, as we speak.”
The creation of the business council is one of many efforts from the attorney general’s office to combat human trafficking in Missouri. In April, he created regulations that allow Missouri consumer protection laws to pursue human traffickers. He also created a task force comprised of members of law enforcement and non-profits.
“Missouri’s businesses are leaders in communities across our state and our new business counsel allows them to lead on one of the most important issues we face today,” he said. “I look forward to partnering with Missouri’s business leaders to end the scourge of modern-day slavery.”