Speaking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Airbnb’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management has said the short-term property-letting website has teamed up with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris in a bid to prevent the service being used by human traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls.
Nick Shapiro said Airbnb will work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.
“We’re taking a modern approach to combating modern slavery by leveraging the innovation of the sharing economy to better spot and stop potential exploitation ahead of time,” Shapiro said.
“Exploitation and trafficking are still all too common in today’s society, but we are eager to use our global reach to help assist in the effort to end it once and for all.”
Police in the UK have warned that traffickers and prostitutes are increasingly using short-term property rentals as temporary bases from which to sell sexual services, and that many are using platforms such as Airbnb to secure accommodation.
Pop-up brothels are typically closed down by the criminals who run them within weeks if not days to prevent police from raiding them.
Last week, officials in the UK city of Oxford urged the British government to better regulate the short-term rentals market after seeing an increase in the number of pop-up brothels appearing in the region.
“We know of short-term lets in Oxford being used as ‘pop-up’ brothels associated with sex trafficking, and reports of parties with up to 100 guests suddenly appearing in residential areas,” Councillor Alex Hollingsworth said.
“The original idea of short-term lets was to rent out unused rooms, or houses that were empty because the owners were on holiday themselves, for a few days at a time.
“What we now see in Oxford, like other cities, is properties essentially being used as hotels or guest-houses, but without any of the regulation and safety checks that hotels and guest houses undertake.”
Many women forced into the sex trade in the UK are trafficked into the country from Eastern Europe, often having been conned into travelling having falsey been promised well-paid work and a better life.
Once they arrive, they are often stripped of their travel documents, and made to sell themselves to multiple clients a day in different brothels around the country.
In July last year, a Romanian couple admitted operating a number of pop-up brothels in and around the city of Manchester, where they employed Eastern European women as prostitutes.
Alexe Popa and Gabriela Diac ran four pop-up brothels across the city, Manchester Crown Court heard.