Building Trauma-Informed Workplaces: Recommendations for Business

October 18, 2022
  • Kelly Metcalf portrait

    Kelly Metcalf

    Manager, Human Rights, BSR

  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

  • Alice Pease portrait

    Alice Pease

    Manager, Human Rights, BSR

Key Points

  • Securing employment in a safe, stable job is one of the most effective ways for survivors of human trafficking to build a new life.
  • Adopting trauma-informed policies and practices in the workplace creates an environment in which all employees can thrive.
  • Three case studies explore how companies are approaching survivor employment and provide practical guidance for businesses to implement their own trauma-informed practice.

Modern slavery and human trafficking is on the rise. While the public and private sectors have largely focused on preventing and mitigating these risks, more can be done to address the root causes of labor exploitation.

Safe, sustainable employment is one of the most effective ways to support survivors in securing their livelihood. The private sector is uniquely positioned to provide vocational training, skills and confidence coaching, and entry-level jobs for survivors who seek financial stability.

The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (GBCAT) recently sat down with three organizations to learn about their programs to employ and empower survivors of human trafficking and their efforts to implement a trauma-informed workplace that enables all employees to thrive. We discussed how they had got started with survivor employment and empowerment, key challenges of adopting a trauma-informed approach, and lessons learned for business.

Here we share some key findings from these conversations to help more businesses implement their own trauma-informed practice.

Three Businesses Employing Survivors of Human Trafficking

While still too few and far between, a variety of organizations are showing leadership in employing survivors of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Our case studies highlight three successful examples:

  1. The Market Project, a US-based nonprofit organization which builds businesses that offer stable work to survivors, launched Nguvu Dairy, a yogurt company in northern Uganda. They have employed hundreds of men and women, most of whom have experienced high levels of trauma. See the full conversation here.
  2. Marriott International and GFEMS, a global hospitality company and an international fund working to end modern slavery, have created the Future in Training (FIT) Hospitality curriculum. FIT provides training and resources in the hospitality industry and supports survivors in navigating career paths. See the full conversation here.
  3. Outland Denim, an Australian denim company, currently employs over 50 survivors of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation in Cambodia. Outland Denim has a holistic philosophy to employment, which includes a two-year training program, paying a living wage, and additional educational and professional development opportunities. See the full conversation here.

Three Key Takeaways for Business

1. Trauma-Informed Approaches Benefit Everyone

Poverty and a lack of economic opportunity are key drivers of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. When individuals are not financially secure, they are more vulnerable to deceptive recruitment or employment practices.

Access to safe and stable employment not only reduces survivors’ own risk of exploitation but also that of dependents, like children or young adults. Three-quarters of employees at Outland Denim expressed feeling a reduced level of risk to exploitation after just six months of employment.

Moreover, education, vocational training, and other resources can benefit entire communities. 98 percent of surveyed employees at Outland Denim noted that they share the education provided by the company—such as personal finances—with their families and communities, extending their reach and impact.

All employees can benefit from a trauma-informed approach, which helps to build trust and employee motivation, strengthen relationships, and emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Importance of a Long-Term Approach to Partnerships

Business cannot start out alone when building a survivor empowerment program. They should partner with immediate needs providers and vocational training organizations to help identify survivors as well as assess whether they are ready for employment and provide critical support services, like healthcare and legal aid.

Partnership should not stop once a survivor has been hired; business can continue to seek support of expert NGOs in the initial stages of the employment journey.

Marriott and GFEMS have worked together to develop the FIT curriculum and to address barriers—including transportation, childcare, and financial assistance—that would prevent survivors from accessing the curriculum.

3. Iterative Learning Supports Progress

The relative infancy of most survivor empowerment and employment programs—and the complexity of challenges faced—make monitoring, evaluation, and iterative learning core to their success. Each organization and program have developed a monitoring and evaluation framework. Incorporating the feedback of survivors is another integral element.

The Market Project conducts semi-annual impact evaluation surveys at Nguvu Dairy to assess and refine the company’s approach to survivor employment. The survey provides critical site-level information about employee experiences, feedback on how managers are implementing a trauma-informed workplace, and indications of employees who, save for the job, would be at potential risk of exploitation.

Business Benefits

Many workers have experienced varying degrees of trauma. Some may be survivors of modern slavery, while others may be survivors of domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction, conflict, or war. An organization that acknowledges and respects the needs of trauma survivors and fosters an environment in which they feel safe, supported, and empowered will find that these benefits create a better place to work for everyone. 

Conversely, introducing survivors of modern slavery into a business that has not adopted a trauma-informed management style may inadvertently risk retraumatizing survivors by exposing them to power dynamics that mirror past experiences. 

GBCAT is proud to share the experiences of Marriott International, Outland Denim, and the Market Project, showing how companies that update their practices and policies to be trauma-informed can create an environment that is safe for all.

These three case studies accompany GBCAT’s Business Guide on Empowerment and Employment of Survivors of Human Trafficking and the newly released virtual Trauma-Informed Company Training, developed in partnership with Futures Without Violence, which provides additional guidance for business on how to design and establish a trauma-informed workplace. For more information on GBCAT and how to become a member, reach out to the team.

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