Human Trafficking: training our teams to spot the signs

By: Virgin Atlantic

July 30, 2019

For Chelsea Weighman, one of our cabin crew, there was initially nothing to worry about on her flight to New York. She was looking after a six-year-old unaccompanied child called Jeremiah, and everything about him seemed normal. He was smartly dressed, attentive but quite shy. Having built a great rapport with him, it was the answers to a couple of Chelsea’s questions that first made her think something wasn’t right. As the flight went on, she became more and more concerned. There was something about his story of being met by his ‘aunt’ that didn’t check out. He didn’t know her name. He said he was never going to see his mum again.

After chatting with the onboard manager, Chelsea also discussed the issue with the pilots who called our ops centre and asked them to relay the information to the border agencies in New York. Police and customs met the aircraft and Chelsea went with them all to the arrivals area. Waiting there was a very aggressive ‘auntie’. Chelsea’s hunch was right. Jeremiah was being trafficked, and the woman meeting him was arrested. That’s one crew member using her intuition to make the biggest of differences to a vulnerable child. If only this was an isolated case.

"I think about Jeremiah all the time, and I hope his life has turned around. I’m so glad that there is being more done to make crew aware that it can happen, help them read the signs, and help those that have been trafficked". Chelsea Weighman

Human trafficking

The United Nations has designated today (July 30) as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. A day to come together and reaffirm our commitment to stop criminals from ruthlessly exploiting people for profit and to help victims rebuild their lives.

A rarely seen side of travel

Working for an airline, our frontline teams have fantastic people skills and offer brilliant customer service. Those same skills also make our people astute observers of the human condition and they’re good at spotting when something isn’t right. That comes into its own in a lesser known aspect of their job: keeping an eye out for victims of human trafficking. We take this very seriously. It breaks our heart that airlines are used for this type of crime. That’s why we train our cabin crew and pilots to identify and report any suspected victims, to prevent them from being used as modern-day slaves.

The problem

Trafficking and slavery, while not the same thing, exist side by side, one feeding the other. Trafficking is defined as the action or practise of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or slavery. This can take any number of brutal forms, including commercial sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, domestic servitude, child slavery, early and forced marriage, forced begging and forced criminality.

If you thought the slave trade had been abolished, the numbers might surprise you. During the whole of the transatlantic slave trade which ran from 1525 to 1866, a total of 12.5 million slaves were shipped (trafficked) to the new world. Today, there are at least 27 million slaves worldwide. Human trafficking and modern slavery are extremely serious crimes as well as a grave violation of human rights and human dignity. They’re also the fastest-growing global criminal activity, second only to the drugs trade, and it’s happening in industries that almost every one of us interacts with on a daily basis.

The training

Jaime Tripp

Jaime Tripp, a member of our training design team, has developed our human trafficking awareness course and trained the people who’ve been delivering it. These short courses are given to all our cabin crew and pilots once a year when they come in for their annual refresher training. The course covers awareness of what human trafficking is, how to recognise indicators of human trafficking and have the confidence to call it out onboard or on the ground, how to identify and manage suspected victims and traffickers onboard, and how to report them to the authorities. After the course, our crew have the confidence to act when they have concerns about human trafficking and to know how to communicate their observations quickly and effectively so appropriate action can be taken.

“Our people can make a difference; in particular, our customer-facing teams who can provide an important source of intelligence to prevent human trafficking,” says Jaime. “It’s happening closer than we know, and people and businesses need to work together to reduce the level of human trafficking and subsequently modern slavery to give people back their freedom and life. Trust your instincts.” She also urges everyone to visit A21, a non-profit organisation working to free slaves and disrupt demand. Their campaign Can you see me (video below) is shown on all the courses.

Jaime has also been working closely with Rachelle Freeguard to make sure our training is as good as it could be. Recently awarded the CBE for her efforts, Rachelle works for the UK Border Force slavery unit and explains how they’re starting to work more closely with airlines in regards to combatting modern slavery and human trafficking.

“I’ve been working with Jaime to look at training and see where I can help to explain our part in the process. If everyone can work together to try to combat this horrendous crime then hopefully we’ll start to see less of it. “There’s a process set up for airlines to make referrals in the event they see any indicators with passengers; these referrals go to UNSEEN who run the modern slavery helpline.”

The training course has been popular with our cabin crew and pilots. As one of our pilots put it: “I questioned why as flight crew we needed to have a session on human trafficking, but having just experienced it I now know exactly why; that was fantastic.”

One of the video series

What you can do

Slavery is closer than you think. It happens all over the world, including the UK. While victims are exploited and abused in many different ways, they all share one defining experience – a loss of freedom.

Jaime’s training is just one part of our company modern slavery policy, which covers business practices, employment and supply chain. “This is an example of how, as a company, we can be a force for good,” says Kathryn Asplin, our sustainability specialist. “Transparency is really important to us, and we look at our policies every year. But we also need to challenge ourselves individually and think about the products we buy and how they may be supporting the slave trade.”

As Jaime asks our crew in the training course, have you grabbed a tea or coffee today, used a smartphone or put bronzer on your cheeks? Are you drawn to buying value clothes or go to a cheap car wash? All of these activities have the potential to cross paths with human trafficking and slavery. On her courses Jaime encourages our crew to take the Slavery Footprint survey which is a good way to learn more about where and when you might be interacting with slavery.

The IATA 'Eyes wide open' film

At Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, we aim to source goods and services in a way that treats the people we work with, directly and indirectly, with respect and dignity. We ask our suppliers to agree to our Responsible Supplier Policy, which clearly defines the standards we expect from them within their businesses and in dealing with their suppliers. We can all challenge ourselves on our lifestyle and buying choices and make more informed decisions, which will contribute to a vast reduction in modern slavery and therefore occurrences of human trafficking.

Find out more

A21 –

IATA – Human Trafficking –

Blue heart Campaign

Blue Lightning Initiative

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