Ride-hailing service Uber’s been in the headlines for the last 18 months for a variety reasons, none of them good. However, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is looking to change that, especially when it comes to the company’s drivers.
He’s made a massive effort to make the company’s 750,000 drivers in the U.S. feel more appreciated, including matching Lyft in allowing for tips and providing a hotline for drivers to call when they have questions.
Now, the recently appointed CEO is giving them a new responsibility … an altruistic purpose. He’s working with them to make an impact on human trafficking. The company’s always encouraged drivers to play a role in the end of the scourge, but the new initiative is a formalized program.
It not only urges drivers to be aware, but also provides them with the information needed to recognize a victim who may be riding in their car.
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When Uber drivers log on to their app, they are given information that includes how to spot victims of trafficking and best practices for reporting tips to the police and anti-trafficking support groups, such as Uber’s partner in this effort, Polaris.
Those tips include spotting clothing or behavior that seems inappropriate for the age; a younger rider displaying fearful emotions in the company of a fellow adult rider; tattoos that appear more like ownership branding than art; and ride requests that stop at multiple hotels for short durations, according to the Uber website.
“This is a global problem that affects all our cities and communities, and we realized our drivers are uniquely positioned to make an impact,” Tracey Breeden, Uber’s Global Safety Communications lead, told USA Today. Breeden is a former police officer and she is overseeing the implementation of the new initiative.
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The program will expand to foreign markets over time. Breeden said it will be customized to each country in which Uber operates. Uber’s partners in the U.S. initiative are The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Thorn, and The McCain Institute for International Leadership, whose efforts to battle human trafficking are led by Cindy McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Uber drivers can play a critical role in the fight against human trafficking, experts say, because the element engaging in it now focuses on using technology to locate and transport victims. Sex workers can be moved from place to place quickly and simply by using a ride hailing service, like Uber.
“Drivers are the ones who will be able to get a sense of whether there is threatening behavior, so it’s important they know what to do,” said Bradley Miles, CEO of Polaris, who told USA Today that reporting by Uber drivers can help the organization add critical information to its database of 40,000 cases.
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A growing number of hospitality companies, such as hotel chains, taxi and limousine services, etc., are working with human trafficking organizations and law enforcement officials to try to make a difference. So far, there is evidence it’s working. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of human trafficking cases logged and reporting calls made has roughly doubled to 7,600 and 26,700, respectively, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.