Modern slavery in the hotel industry: recognising the risks

Modern slavery in the hotel industry: recognising the risks

Meenal Sachdev, Founder and Director of Shiva Foundation, and Nishma Jethwa, Strategy Lead at the organisation, reflect on why modern slavery presents such a problem for the hotel industry and what can be done to tackle it. Shiva Foundation works to prevent human trafficking and slavery in the UK, and is funded by Shiva Hotels.
Today marks Anti-Slavery Day, an opportunity for individuals and businesses to reflect on what more they can do to tackle modern slavery. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May has called modern slavery “the greatest human rights issue of our time” and emphasised the need for a “radical new approach” to tackle it. May’s determination to stamp out modern slavery teamed with this new report by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner highlighting the UK police force’s limitations in tackling the issue, have brought modern slavery sharply into focus in the past few days.

Some of the risks

A recent report by RepRisk cites the food and beverage industry as the sector most frequently associated with modern slavery, directly implicating hotels and their restaurants’ sourcing and supply chains as being at risk. But this is just one of the concerns for the hotel sector.

Hotel rooms can be used as a location for sexual exploitation or as halfway houses for traffickers moving their victims between locations. The anonymity and privacy service-element of the industry makes it an easy target. In the United States, there were 1,434 cases of human trafficking in hotels reported between 2007 and 2015, making hotels the third most popular location for sex-trafficking. In the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that 4% of sexual exploitation happens in hotels. However, many cases go unreported and the NCA acknowledges that the real figures are likely to be much higher.

Recruitment processes also pose a significant threat. With nearly 25% of staff working in the UK hospitality industry coming from overseas, recruitment methods are often convoluted and multi-tiered. Hotels regularly subcontract recruitment to agencies, who in turn may use other recruiters, paving the way for forced or coerced labour. Often hotel management is totally unaware of their staff’s terms of employment because their due diligence process only extends as far as the first tier of the recruitment process, which to them, appears reputable. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that staff recruited from overseas may lack the necessary language skills to voice their worries. They may be unaware that their treatment is illegal, or fear being turned over to authorities or deported.

High staff turnover can also increase the dangers for hotel workers. The brevity of contracts can mean staff don’t know their managers well enough to be comfortable raising concerns, or staff are not present long enough for their neglect to be recognised.

If staff and customers can be made fully aware of the risks, the signs to look out for and how to act if they do spot something, the problem of modern slavery in hotels becomes much less insurmountable. There are already some commendable consumer-facing campaigns. For example, TraffickCam involves customers uploading photographs of their hotel rooms to an app, adding to a bank of images which can be used to identify victims’ whereabouts when their pictures are posted online by traffickers. There are also a number of organisations aiding businesses, such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of businesses promoting respect for workers’ rights, and the Staff Wanted campaign, which works to prevent the exploitation of hotel staff.

By bringing together the insights from organisations such as these, we can work towards a longer-term culture change, far beyond just awareness, in which everyone can take responsibility for the problem. While there is of course much good work underway, up until now there has been a lack of collaboration both across the various levels of the hotel sector and between other sectors more broadly. This is where significant change can be made.

At Shiva Foundation, we are committed to collaboration as the key way to achieve change. As part of this, we are working to establish best practice for the hotel industry whilst openly sharing the challenges and learnings we encounter. We are currently trialling and testing models to be shared across the hotel industry. One key aspect to this is the trial implementation of our Anti-Trafficking Charter at the DoubleTree by Hilton London Excel, one of the properties managed by Shiva Hotels. The Charter includes practical guidance for hotel staff on how to spot and report concerns, steps to identify potential risks in operational supply chains as well as purchasing of capital goods and protocols to minimise the risks of modern slavery. It is being tested before being refined and fully launched in 2017.

As part of our collaborative approach, we are hoping to build on existing work carried out by the International Tourism Partnership and are also working closely with organisations like the British Hospitality Association. On 2nd November, we will be bringing together leading hoteliers at a closed roundtable discussion to help create an industry wide commitment to tackle modern slavery. We look forward to announcing this shared commitment at the Trust Women Conference on 30th November in London.

We must work together to do all we can to combat modern slavery. Only through collaboration can we find the most effective solutions.

Find out more about what Shiva Foundation is doing to tackle modern slavery here, and follow the organisation on Twitter @shiva_fdn.

Tourism Partnership © October 2016

Source: TraffickCam Articles

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