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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

Corporate accountability: Human trafficking

According to the International Labour Organization, more than 12 million people are victims of forced labor today; 2.45 million of them have been trafficked. Of those trafficked, two-thirds are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some of the most vulnerable are children, primarily through prostitution and sex tourism. Events like the World Cup in South Africa, which attracted up to 500,000 visitors, have the potential to be accompanied by an increase in human trafficking. While not responsible for this crime, the lodging industry is well positioned to help by taking action to stop the use of hotels for these purposes.

In April 2010, over 300 faith-based organizations and socially responsible investors sent letters to eight companies with hotels in South Africa, asking about actions being taken to combat human trafficking and child sexual exploitation in advance of the World Cup. The letters requested that the hotels 1) create awareness among employees about human trafficking and child sexual exploitation; 2) train staff to be observant of potential victims, and should they observe anything that suggests that sexual exploitation of children may be taking place, make them aware to whom they should report such incidents; 3) build alliances with police, anti-trafficking organizations and child welfare agencies; 4) provide information to hotel guests regarding national laws and penalties imposed for trafficking and the sexual abuse of children; and 5) support organizations that help victims of human trafficking and work with governments to create and strengthen laws.

Six weeks after the letter was sent, only two hotel chains – Accor (brands include Mercure, Motel6, Formule1, Novotel), and Carlson (brands include Radisson, Country Inns & Suites) – had responded. InterContinental sent a response that did not address investors’ concerns. The others - Best Western, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels, NH Hoteles, and Starwood Hotels – did not respond to the initial communique but answered a query from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

What investors found was that only three hotel companies have a human rights policy that specifically addresses child protections – Starwood (brands include Westin and Sheraton), Accor and Carlson.

Hyatt, Accor, Carlson, and NH Hoteles took action to address child sexual exploitation in South Africa. While NH and Hyatt informed staff about the issue, InterContinental, Best Western, Starwood, and Hilton did not mention taking action in South Africa to increase awareness among staff about human trafficking. Accor and Carlson/Rezidor (Carlson is the majority shareholder of Rezidor, which operates in South Africa) were most active and the only hotels with a systematic approach to address human trafficking with programs and policies on child sexual exploitation.

NH Hoteles, Accor, and Carlson have endorsed an industry-wide code of conduct known as The Code. Developed by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) Sweden in collaboration with the travel industry, The Code asks tourism providers to pledge to help protect children from sexual exploitation. At this point, 947 companies operating in 37 countries have signed on.

Best Western, Hyatt, and Hilton do not appear to have programs or policies to combat child sexual exploitation.

A report and an analysis by Christian Brothers Investment Services of the hotel responses includes the following recommendations:

  • All hotels should have clearly formulated and well-monitored policies and programs to combat child sexual exploitation. It is especially important for hotel chains to have programs in place in advance of major events and meetings that cause an influx of tourism.
  • Best Western, Hyatt, Hilton, InterContinental, and Starwood should endorse The Code or implement the elements of The Code.
  • Accor’s U.S. chain Motel6 should sign The Code independently, given the lack of leadership among U.S.-based hotel companies on the issue of human trafficking. Carlson is the only major chain to adopt The Code in the U.S.
  • Best Western, Hyatt, and Hilton should create and implement human rights policies that protect the rights of children and condemn all forms of exploitation.

Signatories to the investors’ letter will continue their outreach to these and other hotels in order to reduce the likelihood of incidents of child sex tourism occurring in hotels.

Faith in action:

For your next hotel visit, give a letter to the front desk that states your concerns about human trafficking. Download a sample letter here.

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