Traffickers often rely on hotels to sustain their operations using them to house their victims or sell forced services, but now many in the industry are taking steps to tackle the problem. Amy Brown reports

The hotel industry is at the frontline in the fight against human trafficking. The International Labour Organization estimates that 24.9 million people worldwide are victims of labour and sex trafficking. Trafficking networks often rely on legitimate businesses, including hotels, to sustain their illegal operations and infrastructure, using them to house their victims while in transit or to sell their victims’ forced services.  

Many hotels are taking broad measures to tackle the problem, both individually and collectively. The International Tourism Partnership (ITP), a hotel industry platform, has embedded human rights, including elimination of fees charged to workers to secure employment, into the corporate governance of its members. Last June, ITP launched its Principles on Forced Labour, and is working with its members to incorporate these in their operations.

It also supports a Youth Career Initiative programme that helps hotels to re-integrate survivors of human trafficking through secure employment.

It’s important not to be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions – both of ourselves and our suppliers

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) has an anti-human trafficking taskforce across its operations. It works on reinforcing policies, providing awareness and education to employees and key stakeholders through training and communication campaigns, and by collaborating with stakeholders, such as the World Childhood Foundation, which was co-founded by the Carlson Family Foundation and works to prevent abuse and exploitation of children.

In partnership with Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) International, a global network of organisations working to end the sexual exploitation of children, it also recently launched digital anti-trafficking ads on the company's intranet “myCWT” platform with a simple call to action: “report it”. CWT has also made training videos produced by the BEST Alliance (Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking) available to all employees worldwide.

James Pitcher, director of sustainability at Whitbread, the UK’s largest hospitality company, says Whitbread works to raise awareness of the issue across its operations, including training its Premier Inn teams to identify and report suspected cases of modern slavery.   

ITP is working with members to incorporate its principles in their operations.(Credit: ITP)

“It’s important not to be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions – both of ourselves and our suppliers, and we make sure we constantly challenge, scrutinise and interrogate,” Pitcher says.  

“While we are committed to working collaboratively with our suppliers, we are very clear through our responsible sourcing policy that we will not tolerate those who persistently disregard our standards,” he adds. 

By the end of 2018, Hilton had trained all of its supply team members in the risks of modern-day slavery in the supply chain and set 2020 as the deadline to train all of its 300,000 employees in anti-human trafficking. 

It’s important that those who sign report on the actions they are taking to live up to the code

Marriott is in the middle of a huge effort to ensure all of its almost half-million employees in 125 countries have completed mandatory training to recognise human trafficking by 2025.   

At Hyatt, human trafficking training is mandatory for all its hotels worldwide, including franchisees.

Like other major hotel brands, Hyatt has signed the non-profit ECPAT code of conduct. It also supports the US Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign to end human trafficking. 

Premier Inn staff are trained to identify cases of suspected modern slavery. (Credit: Tony Baggett/Shutterstock)  

Signing the code is not enough, however, says Joanna Rubenstein, president and CEO of the World Childhood Foundation (USA), and a board member of the UN World Tourism Network on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism. (See The travel industry is at the front line of human trafficking. It can and must act)

“Whenever I travel, and I travel quite a bit, I ask a hotel employee or manager if they’ve signed the code and many don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s important that those who sign report on the actions they are taking to live up to the code,” she says. 

Rubenstein says that fighting anti-trafficking and modern slavery should become a core part of a business and a liability issue if they don’t measure up. “If a hotel does not have this kind of standard in place to prevent human trafficking, it should lose its license to operate,” she says. 

Main picture credit: Yupa Watchanakit/Shutterstock
travel industry  hotels  human trafficking  ECPAT  modern slavery  ITP  Whitbread  Carlson Wagonlit Travel 

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