10 years of promoting child protection in US tourism

A decade ago, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, then CEO of Carlson, formally signed The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code) in front of high-profile witnesses including Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, Carol Bellamy, then Executive Director of UNICEF, Dawid de Villiers, then Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and John Miller, then Director of the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Marilyn Carlson-Nelson signing The Code in 2004 in front of witnesses (L to R) Queen Silvia of Sweden, Dawid de Villiers, Carol Smolenski, Carol Bellamy, and John Miller

That auspicious day saw the official launch of The Code in the United States, driven by local Code partner ECPAT-USA.

Fast forward 10 years and, thanks to the tireless efforts of ECPAT-USA’s Executive Director Carol Smolenski and Director of Private Sector Engagement Michelle Guelbart, 34 companies in the United States are now active members of The Code. These members, including high-profile companies like Carlson, Hilton Worldwide, Sabre, and Delta Air Lines, agree to take six steps to turn child protection principles into concrete action that helps keep children safe.

Reflecting on the progress ECPAT-USA has made in promoting The Code in the United States, Michelle says, “Companies are significantly more open to joining The Code today. When we first launched The Code there was a time period of 6 years before any other company [than Carlson] joined. Now we have 34 members in the United States. I think in the past few years we reached a tipping point with the industry. Through education and awareness we’ve proved that is an undeniable and vital role for the travel and tourism industry to play in protecting children from trafficking. This, coupled with the development of resources so companies can easily implement, led to more companies viewing The Code as an important part of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.

Indeed, The Code’s reach in both the United States and around the world is widening rapidly.

In 2013 over 125,000 tourism staff were trained through The Code worldwide how to recognise and report suspected child abuse. So far 13 companies in the United States have earned Top Member status, meaning they have fully implemented all of The Code’s child protection steps to a high standard.

Thirteen U.S. tourism companies are Top Members of The Code in 2014

Carol says, “I’m proud of the stage we have reached, with companies approaching us to sign The Code, rather than us having to go to them. Companies that sign The Code are succeeding in rolling out training to tens of thousands of people across the US This is a huge step forward in child protection.

Looking ahead, ECPAT-USA has big visions for The Code’s future in the United States.

I hope The Code becomes an industry standard in the United States. And I hope that when American travelers book their travel, they become vocal about their desire for travel companies to address this issue,” says Michelle.

Carol has an even bigger dream: “No sexual exploitation of children happening within the US hospitality industry. That is the goal. I think we can get there with the help of the industry.

We share Carol and Michelle’s dreams. Together we can help realise them.

Please join us in extending a huge thank you to Carol, Michelle, the whole ECPAT-USA team, and all The Code’s member companies in the United States. Together we are making the future safer for our children.

Interested in joining The Code and taking action for children? 

Tourism companies in the USA should contact Michelle Guelbart on (718) 935-9192 or michelle@ecpatusa.org. All other counties please email Mike Nedelko at mike@thecode.org or visit www.thecode.org/join to apply online today. Thank you.

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