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An Integrative Approach to Tackle Human Trafficking

By Leslie Olson

Students from the Spring 2010 "Integrative Leadership: From Theory to
Practice" course, taught by Professors Jay Kiedrowski and Paul Vaaler, will
post their reflections on integrative leadership throughout the course of
the semester on the Time to Lead blog.

Although human trafficking is a criminal matter, governments alone do not have time, resources, and expertise to combat an issue as complex and far-reaching as human trafficking. In addition, the cross-border nature of human trafficking requires extensive inter-governmental cooperation which can be very difficult. Since many of the countries who struggle with human trafficking are developing nations, business and civil society organizations have taken the lead in fighting human trafficking.

Our integrative leadership class had the opportunity to speak with Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman of Carlson, a global hospitality and travel company. Marilyn Carlson Nelson led the initiative at Carlson to sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (www.thecode.org). When a company is looking to engage in the fight against social injustice it typically chooses an issue that is tied to its core products and services (a food company combats hunger, a pharmaceutical company targets malaria, etc.). Carlson's corporate commitment to protect children from sexual exploitation in the tourism industry aligns closely with Carlson's core business of travel.

Carlson's fight again human trafficking illustrates many lessons about effective integrative leadership. Marilyn Carlson Nelson's previous partnerships with Queen Silvia of Sweden provided a solid foundation for the Code of Conduct to be successful. Carlson was collaborating with a trusted partner and therefore could focus exclusively on addressing human trafficking. Both parties did not need to start with relationship-building before tackling the issue at hand. Our class discussion further reinforced how critical it is to have visionary leadership at a company. Despite pushback from senior leadership at Carlson, Marilyn Carlson Nelson signed the Code of Conduct and continued to motivate and influence her employees to inform customers about human trafficking. The positive media coverage at the signing encouraged employees to support the fight against global sex tourism.

Finally, our class discussion highlighted how challenging it can be for companies to champion causes even those universally denounced such as human trafficking. Companies often lack the desire/resources or fear possible bad publicity for becoming involved in social issues. Sadly, few hotel and travel companies in the United States have signed the Code of Conduct. The business community needs more visionary integrative leaders like Marilyn Carlson Nelson to help drive change.

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