The call came following a screening of Sex Slaves, a documentary by Canadian director, Ric-Esther Bienstock on the trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union to Turkey - a major hotspot for human trafficking. According to the International Organization for Migration, IOM, four hundred and sixty nine women, mostly from Moldova and Ukraine, were trafficked into Turkey last year. Although the real numbers are estimated to be ten times higher.

During a debate after the film, panel members from the International Labour Organisation, the Suzanne Mubarak Peace Movement, and the Geneva and international business community stressed the vital role that the private sector had to play in the elimination of sexual trafficking.

«Governments can certainly do more in cracking down on trafficking and imposing tougher penalties on the perpetrators» said Richard Plant, Director of the forced labour programme at the ILO. «However, as we have seen from the film, the private sector can do much more. The hotel, transport and entertainment industries are often in the frontline and given the right information and resources could help to stamp out what amounts to modern slavery.»

Driven by globalization and a thriving internet sex trade, sexual trafficking has significantly increased in recent years. According to the UN, between two and four million people, most of them women and children, are trafficked each year. Human trafficking has become the third largest criminal industry in the world, raking in annual profits of 31 billion US dollars annually.

«Civil society and governments can not fight this scourge by themselves» said Dr Aleya El Bindari, founder of the Suzanne Mubarak Peace Movement. «Companies have to face up to the fact that they have a corporate social responsibility in upholding human rights principles in the conduct of their business locally and internationally».

At a meeting, organized by the Movement and various UN agencies in Athens in January, 200 of the worlds top businesses signed up to a set of ethical principles to combat sexual trafficking. They include a commitment to zero tolerance, an assurance that all staff fully comply with anti-trafficking policies and that business partners including suppliers apply these ethical principles.

«As businesses are not democracies, we can act much faster than governments, the UN and NGO’s and so speed up the process», stressed David Arkless, Senior Vice President Corporate Affairs, Manpower. «We have four and a half million employees and three hundred and fifty thousand clients so our potential reach in effecting change is enormous.» Manpower and those backing the code of conduct stress that enforcement is key and that businesses that sign up will be rigorously audited and named and shamed if found to be linked to trafficking.

Over the next year, the initiative aims to get the world’s top two thousand companies to adopt the «Athens Ethical Principles» and is targeting some of the world’s movers and shakers in the Arab world at the World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheik, in May.