AUSTIN, Texas - Beer distributors spend hours on the road, delivering beer to bars and convenience stores and parking at truck stops to fill their gas tank or use the bathroom.
Their eyes and ears are in the right places to spot something that’s not right. Specifically, much of their time is spent at locations where sex trafficking or forced labor may be taking place.
However, in order to help, they need to know what to look for, and thanks to a statewide initiative that has since gone national, these drivers are being trained on how to do that.
"I received a call in early 2018 from the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commssion," said Tom Spilman, president of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. "They had an interest in expanding eyes and ears when it came to efforts to fight human trafficking."
Spilman was a good place to start. The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas oversees around 25 companies and thousands of employees.
Next, they reached out to Brown Distributing, one of the first companies to go through the training. "It made total sense as to how we can help," said Laurie Brown, vice president of the family-owned Austin business. "We're going to over 4,000 different locations in and around Austin on a regular basis."
The drivers didn’t need to change their normal routine. They just learned how to spot the signs.
"We had a training session of what they needed to look for," said Brown. "It doesn't have to be for sure, it can just be something that doesn't look right or feel right."
The training included having all 420 of their employees watch a short video. They also handed out cards and put up posters that had important information, like possible signs of trafficking and a phone number to report anything suspicious.
The initiative has since gone countrywide. The National Beer Wholesalers Association launched the "Distributors Against Human Trafficking" initiative this past summer.
In 2019, the year after the initiative was first launched in Texas, complaints to the TABC increased by 175%.
"We have heard some employees say, ‘I've noticed some things, I don't know if it was that, but it was weird or different so I went ahead and called it in," said Brown. "I think it made them feel real good that they could be a part of something like this and help."
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 1,080 reported cases of human trafficking in Texas in 2019.
"We’re going to continue to double down on these efforts," said Spilman. "It's such an important issue, and we're just glad to be a part of it."
To report something to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 (BEFREE).