Airlines have been invited to play a greater role in tackling the growing problem of human trafficking.

In a special address at the IATA AGM in Cancun, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) director, division for policy analysis and public affairs, Jean-Luc Lemahie, called on airlines to help close down the $150 billion global criminal industry.

UNODOC estimates that in 2016 the transportation aspect of human trafficking generated a profit of $31 billion, matching the profitability of the airline industry.

Lemahie praised the work that was already being done by the airline sector to raise awareness of staff of potential human trafficking. For example, staff at 54 airports in the US receive training in how to spot and deal with suspected cases of modern slavery, while the US Federal Aviation Administration has also made an awareness video for flight attendants.

Positively, those efforts are already bearing some fruit. In February, Alaskan Airlines flight attendant Sheila Frederick made headlines after she noticed a female passenger in a poor way, and suspecting that she was being trafficked by a male passenger, informed the pilots. Law enforcement subsequently apprehended her trafficker, and the victim has since gone on to college.

Picking up on an earlier speech by IATA chief executive and director general Alexandre De Juniac where he called air transport "the industry of freedom", Lemahie asked for it to work together to help eradicate modern slavery.

"If the air industry is the business of freedom… let's close hands to end the business of those who take away freedom of others and offer slavery instead. Your win will be ours, my team is here to work with you."

Source: Cirium Dashboard