Amazon transportation employee Mark Stephens immediately felt concerned when he pulled into one of his familiar truck stops outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Stephens, a field leader who teaches defensive driving and safety courses to Amazon drivers and transportation associates, saw two young women walking in between the lines of tractor-trailer trucks parked at the rest stop. The young women seemed lost and out of place. An SUV suddenly pulled up alongside the women. A male passenger stepped out and pushed both women into the vehicle.
Stephens said he realized he might be witnessing human trafficking, based on the red flags he’d been taught to recognize by Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a nonprofit organization that trains trucking industry professionals to help identify, report, and fight sex trafficking. The TAT training educates truck drivers to recognize possible signs of human trafficking on the road and ways to safely report it to law enforcement, which can ultimately help authorities identify and support victims, prosecute traffickers, and save lives.
Amazon currently offers the TAT training to its Transportation Operations Management (TOM) truck drivers and employees. Less than a year after Amazon launched the partnership with TAT, 100% of Amazon drivers and employees—more than 5,000 people—have been trained, including Stephens.
Stephens said he quickly called the National Human Trafficking Hotline to report what he’d seen at the truck stop. Moments later, a police officer in a cruiser with flashing lights intercepted the SUV and began talking to the driver.
“I teach our drivers that when you’re out on the road, you need to take a 360 view. See what’s out there. Be aware of your surroundings. It’s part of the Amazon culture,” said Stephens, a Marine Corps veteran and father of three daughters. “The TAT training provides an additional layer of situational awareness. It’s up to everybody to pay attention and get involved, plain and simple. That could be your daughter, your son, someone close to you.”
Over the past decade, Amazon has taken numerous steps to strengthen its efforts to identify and prevent the risk of modern slavery and forced labor, including enhancing partnerships with industry associations and nonprofits like TAT. In 2019, Amazon became an official corporate sponsor of TAT and began incorporating the nonprofit’s training into the company’s freight driver training program, with the goal of raising awareness about human trafficking. The effort is also a reflection of Amazon’s ongoing commitment to its employees, which are embodied in the company’s two newest Leadership Principles: “Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer” and “Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility.” Amazon believes that leaders work daily to create a safer work environment, and strive to do better for the communities we serve.
Nearly 25 million people are estimated to be victims of human trafficking worldwide, with reports of trafficking in all 50 states in the U.S. Victims are often exploited by traffickers in the sex industry and forced to engage in commercial sex on the streets or at restaurants, truck stops, and motels—places where truckers often stop. That means truckers can be key helpers in spotting human trafficking.
With more than 3.5 million long-haul and heavy-trailer truck drivers traveling across the U.S., trucking professionals can play an important role in helping law enforcement and other government agencies fight sex trafficking, according to TAT. The nonprofit estimates that in the last five years alone, 41% of calls from professional drivers have been made on behalf of minors.
“Trucking professionals like Mark Stephens have helped identify more than 1,000 victims through their calls into the National Human Trafficking Hotline,” said Kendis Paris, executive director and co-founder of TAT. “We need corporations that employ and leverage truckers to join the fight and help more drivers become TAT-trained. We’re very encouraged to see Amazon do just that.”
In addition to supporting TAT, Amazon has joined other efforts to help fight modern slavery and forced labor. The company works with Polaris, a nonprofit that assists trafficking victims and survivors, and works to prevent sex and labor trafficking. Through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris has identified and responded to more than 73,000 cases of human trafficking and labor exploitation since 2007. Amazon Web Services (AWS) works with Polaris to infuse cutting-edge technology into its infrastructure to accelerate the development of the largest known U.S. data set on trafficking.
Amazon also collaborates with Thorn, an organization that builds technology to protect children from sexual abuse. The organization leverages AWS machine learning tools in a Thorn product called Spotlight, which investigators can use to automatically flags ads that are likely to show at-risk children. To date, Spotlight has helped identify more than 17,000 child sex trafficking victims.
Amazon recognizes that real progress in ending human trafficking and modern slavery will only be achieved through collaborative action—by companies, governments, and civil society—to spur systemwide change.