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Guest op-ed: Beer distributors deliver in the fight against human trafficking | Guest Commentary

During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month this January, the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and state attorneys general are continuing to build an unexpected army of eyes and ears across America that will leave human traffickers with fewer places to hide. Since the launch of their Distributors Against Human Trafficking awareness initiative in July 2020, 6,000 beer distribution employees have been trained to safely spot and report the signs of human trafficking. They are on track to train 10,000 employees by the end of 2021.

In addition to training employees during this time, beer distributors across the country have also been forging new partnerships with local organizations to spearhead independent initiatives in the fight against human trafficking. For instance, the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association teamed up with The LifeGuard Group and other law enforcement organizations to establish a statewide human trafficking hotline intended to increase response times and end human trafficking in Montana for good.

Beer distributors are local, family-owned businesses that have often been in operation for generations and know the neighborhoods they serve inside and out. Their employees regularly deliver beer from brewers to around 600,000 licensed retail locations nationwide, including bars, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, sports arenas, truck stops and grocery stores. Their access to hidden backrooms where empty kegs are stored for pickup, local relationships and frequent site visits offer a window into potential human trafficking activity. With the right training, this workforce of dedicated, hardworking people is able to aid state and federal law enforcement agencies in spotting signs of human trafficking when and where it may be happening.

And while it may seem like human trafficking only occurs in big cities and faraway countries, this violent activity also takes place in rural and suburban communities across America. Human trafficking exists in all corners of the world — and it is a $150 billion industry globally. The abhorrent trade in forced labor and sex does immeasurable harm to our most vulnerable populations, including children of every race and background. In fact, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually exploited before age 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Tragically, this crime is often hiding in plain sight and too many criminals get away with their abuse because many of us don’t recognize the red flags. Worse yet, COVID-19 has made human trafficking victims even more vulnerable.

So, in recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, America’s 3,000 independent beer distributors in partnership with state attorneys general are stepping up their efforts to reach all 142,000 beer distribution employees with the Distributors Against Human Trafficking awareness initiative.

Together, we can shine more light on this far-reaching criminal industry that robs too many of their human dignity. Working together, we can end human trafficking once and for all.

Maura Healey is Attorney General for Massachusetts and a member of the National Association of Attorneys General Human Trafficking Committee; Sean Reyes is Attorney General for Utah and Co-Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Human Trafficking Committee; Craig Purser is President and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in Alexandria, VA.

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