MECPATHS – Teaching the hospitalty industry how to detect child trafficking

Founded in 2013 MECPATHS works with brands in the Hospitality and Diversity and Inclusion sector such as Dalata, PREM Group and colleges that teach hospitality management to detect and stop child trafficking within Ireland and abroad. I caught up with JP O’Sullivan from the social enterprise to find out more:

  1. To someone who may not be aware of it, what is MECPATHS?

MECPATHS is the only non-profit organisation working to counter Child Trafficking in Ireland. Founded in 2013, it supports The Hospitality and Services Sectors to evolve their understanding of the concepts and processes involved in Human and Child Trafficking.  MECPATHS also works with Universities and Colleges in Ireland to deliver modules on Trafficking to undergraduate and postgraduate students and it continues to extend its outreach to front-line professionals including Social Workers and child-engaged frontline responders.

  1. What inspired the founders to start the company? Why did you decide to join the company?

The project was inspired by a presentation at The UN Conference on The Status of Women in New York where the realities of Trafficking survivors were explored. At the time, The Hospitality Industry was one of the leading industries in the world best positioned to respond as hotels were cited as the 2nd most common venue in The USA for victims of trafficking to be found. In Europe, over 93,000 victims of Trafficking are identified in hotels each year. It was felt that Ireland was not immune to these trends, nor was the country devoid of the problem.

I joined the organisation 4 years ago on a 3-month research-based contract. During my research it became evident that Ireland was facing a growing challenge in the area and the necessary responses were not available. My own background was in Child Protection in South East Asia. Many of the trends I had experienced there were presenting themselves here in Ireland.

  1. How has this grown into where the company is now? What are some of the best marketing tools you use?

The project has transitioned from delivering workshops on an ad-hoc basis, based on word of mouth to a network of the leading Irish hotel brands as core consumers of education, alongside the universities collaborating on building accredited modules to global tech. companies requesting consultation on the development of International safeguarding policies. We continue to work with smaller hotels (also) in line with our historical origins but have grown exponentially to meet the need. We have just formally finalised a working relationship with The Private Security Authority in Ireland to deliver our training (online) to 30,000 security guards in Ireland.

The best marketing tools for us have been Social Media (Twitter), print media, radio (documentary production) and relationship building. Our marketing budget is small so we tend to utilise it to maximise campaigns we are running and use the following quarter to build on the campaign interactions we have developed. (We have a preference for sustainable relationships which align with our values).

  1. What have been some of the major companies that you have worked with? What impact did the training have on them?

We have worked with Dalata, PREM Group, The P.S.A., Gleneagle Group, Maynooth University, University College Cork, Shannon College of Hotel Management, and the National University of Ireland Galway. The measurement of impact remains a key challenge for us due to the fluidity of hospitality staff across the industry. However, we have found key indicators to include property call-backs and follow ups advising that there have been children identified who were at risk and interventions were provided and delivered.

  1. What have been some of the highlights since your launch?

We have built an extremely good working relationship with The Department of Justice and The An Garda Siochana.

We have received 3 industry awards over the past 12 months for innovation within Hospitality and a radio documentary which we produced with CuriousBroadcast / NewsTalk is a finalist in the New York Radio Documentary Awards 2021. As a staff of 2, we are extremely proud of these achievements.

  1. How did the pandemic affect your services? Were there any positives you have taken from this period?

Our workload increased substantially during the pandemic. As most people moved their business to online, we found ourselves receiving requests to deliver workshops and trainings to organisations we would otherwise not have been able to travel to geographically.

We remained cognisant that Child Trafficking is not an industry reduced by pandemics but an increase in exploitation becomes incubated where young people find themselves online, out of reach of social services, away from their teachers, out of school and out of the line of vision of those most likely to be able to identify the challenges they face. Our voices at MECPATHS were amplified through the development of key relationships which had previously been ‘set aside for a later date’. The tech. allowed us to bring increased number of people together online rather than in person at the learners convenience, to have the necessary conversations and to develop an online LMS which was fully funded by The Department of Justice. The pandemic allowed learning to become more accessible and our own ongoing professional development to be enhanced.

  1. In your opinion how has the pandemic affected child trafficking in general?

Whilst we have seen many international reports advising that Child Trafficking spiked during the pandemic, which we presume to be very accurate, it is quite simply too soon to tell. With a full return to ‘normal’ still on the horizon, the impact remains unmeasured.

  1. As a social enterprise, would you have any tips on how to develop a market around social justice issues?

The core is the investment of time on exploring the values, the mission and the vision of the organisation. Whilst it is enticing to get out there and do the practical, hands-on work, an early investment in Strategic planning etc. is hugely important. Social justice responses come from the core of one’s own being, driven by the heart and find their historical origins in Social Work etc. but for the long term impact to be measurable and for the work to be sustainable, the heart and the head need to work together to build the structures.

  1. What can people do if they’re passionate about this topic and want to help?

We are always very open to having conversations, to deliver workshops, to listen to people’s own experiences and to answer questions. Our workshops are all free of charge and we welcome invitations

  1. Are there any other organisations in the Irish Diversity and Inclusion Sector that you are big fans of?

Personally, I have great time for Business in The Community. Starting out in the sector many moons ago, BITC gave me great support and teamed me up with a Mentor from Oracle who really developed my understanding of the key and core principles of merging the ‘heart and the head’ elements of business. (Editors note: Yes the founder of works for Business In The Community, but I in no way influenced JP to say this…they’re really just that nice 🙂 )

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