By: David Lisko and Tony Farina

While data is difficult to collect on a global scale due to a variety of obstacles (including unreported incidents, complexity of scheme, or sensitivity of identifying individual occurrences), it is estimated that human trafficking steals the freedom of more than 24 million people around the world by forcing them to perform labor services or commercial sex acts. As President Trump said recently, there are more people being trafficked today than any other time in human history. 

To combat this, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, which enabled criminal punishment for human trafficking in the United States. In 2003, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) added a civil cause of action, and in 2008, amendments to the TVPRA extended civil liability to anyone who knew or should have known about human trafficking activity and profited from it. 

The 2008 TVPRA subsequently resulted in civil litigation against various multi-national corporations, including those in the hospitality industry, chocolate industry, social-media/ technology industry, and garment industry. Victims of human trafficking crimes advanced theories that these global companies and organizations knew or should have known human trafficking was occurring within their sphere of influence, that the companies failed to take necessary steps to prevent human trafficking from occurring, and realized financial gain from their negligence in prevention of such human trafficking. The sports industry is likely the next major arena for zealous plaintiffs’ attorneys and government enforcement agents seeking to hold industry accountable for human trafficking—and these sports organizations don’t even know it.

In 2018, the professional and amateur sports travel industry in North America generated over $71 billion, with more than 150 million people attending at least one professional sporting event. Do professional sports teams, universities, academies, and organizations know how their athletes, employees, and vendors are arriving at their campuses and facilities? Are agents and runners being used to recruit and, if so, what are they doing to entice and/or control the athletes they recruit? Do they know how the equipment and merchandise branded with their logo is being manufactured? Do they know how workers are getting to their stadiums to work their events? Are they aware of the large influx of sex trafficking to locations where major sporting events are occurring? What steps are they taking to stop human trafficking from occurring when their merchandise is being made or while they put on events? This is not an exhaustive list of questions sports organizations should be asking, but if the answer to any of these questions is “no,” these organizations may be liable to victims of human trafficking in civil litigation. 

To protect themselves, sports organizations are advised to consult legal counsel to determine whether their business is subject to certain anti-human trafficking regulation requirements, and implement a robust compliance program to proactively insulate themselves from civil and criminal liability stemming from human trafficking. Organizations should begin with a thorough risk assessment of their current business practices and policies, compliance programs, and employee handbooks. In addition, organizations need to evaluate whether their business partners and associations expose them to any liability. 

Once a risk assessment is complete, the next steps include setting organization-wide standards that help identify and prevent human trafficking, implementing human trafficking awareness programs for training employees and vendors, proper monitoring systems, conducting supplier audits and reviewing product supply chains are in compliance with TVPRA, as well as developing protocols for suspected violations of organization standards or suspicious activity. For added security, sports organizations are advised to seek independent legal counsel or an independent third-party with special knowledge of the TVPRA, complex international laws, and human trafficking regulations.

David Lisko is a Partner at Holland & Knight LLP specializing in litigation and sports. Tony Farina attends Hofstra Law School, Class of 2020.


1 – See Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386 § 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464, 1467 (2000).

2 – 18 U.S.C. § 1595; See also Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-193, § 4(a)(4)(A), 117 Stat. 2875, 2878 (2003).

3 – See William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-457, 122 Stat. § 5067, Title II, § 221(2)(2008), 117 Stat. 2875, 2878 (2003), amended by Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-22, 129 Stat. 247, title I, § 120 (2015).