According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were victims of modern slavery on any given day in 2016. With the International Labor Organization estimating annual profits from forced labor at 150 billion USD, it is the world’s second largest criminal industry and affects all countries. The victims of these crimes have to endure forced labor, sexual exploitation, organ removal or forced marriage.
The fight against modern slavery starts by acknowledging and identifying the issue. In 2015, the UK government intensified their efforts by issuing the Modern Slavery Act, calling for more transparent supply chains in large companies. The awareness of this issue has also risen dramatically over the past years thanks to the efforts of many human rights organizations. Together with government agencies they are determined to educate the general public and private corporations on signs of human trafficking and on how to proceed once a case has been identified. Private companies are asked to step up and acknowledge their responsibility to protect the many lives destroyed by this heinous practice. As a global industry, the hospitality sector has an important role to play in recognizing and fighting these crimes.
Unfortunately, human traffickers often use the anonymity provided by hospitality establishments as a base for their operations. Be it as a location from where they conduct the trade in human lives or even as the very place the individuals are forced to work involuntarily by means of force, coercion or fraud. It is a common misconception that human trafficking only takes place in less developed countries and in back-alley budget hotels: the reality is that it can take many forms and can happen in any place.
How hospitality organizations are addressing human trafficking
Marriott International has recently collaborated with ECPAT-USA and Polaris - both leading non-profit organizations - in the fight against human trafficking to make their educational programs accessible in several languages. So far, more than half a million Marriott employees have successfully completed the training to learn about early warning signs such as:
- Minimal luggage and clothing
- Multiple men being escorted one at a time to a guest room
- Individuals who cannot speak freely or seem disoriented
- Guests who insist on little or no housekeeping
Many hotel companies have taken similar steps in this direction.
Wyndham Hotel Group already entered a partnership with Polaris back in 2014 to produce, distribute and train their employees on comprehensive educational tools on human trafficking. It has become a standard for global hotel companies to issue a slavery or human trafficking statement containing the organizations commitment to combat the issue. These statements are important in establishing and overseeing a working strategy for companies’ due diligence processes, risk identification and management, training and awareness. Just as important as a combative process, however, is the creation of performance indicators to measure the success of stated policies.
Hilton has committed to not only train all employees on the issue, but also map all operating hotels and pipeline countries against human rights risks in collaboration with the International Tourism Partnership.
But even for well-trained staff members, detecting an ongoing crime can be hard as it is mostly conducted behind closed doors and the warning signs can surface in different nuanced ways. Staff members, as well as guests have to stay vigilant and not be afraid to escalate suspicious behavior. It is encouraging to see companies in the hospitality industry taking steps towards the eradication of forced labor and other forms of human trafficking, but there is yet a long road ahead to the attainment of this goal.