Tackling Modern Slavery in the Hotel Industry

By Isobel Archer, Shiva Foundation 

Following the implementation of legislation such as the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) and California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (2010), modern slavery has come to the forefront of the minds of senior executives in business. With an ever increasing number of governments (Australia, Hong Kong, France, Netherlands) facing calls for new laws on corporate responsibility to combat modern slavery from the top down, the onus at last seems to be on businesses to step up and take responsibility for tackling this hidden crime. Some sectors now face scrutiny en masse, with the garment, food, electronics and construction industries being just a few of those perceived to be particularly at risk for labour exploitation.

Whilst the hotel sector has so far been spared scandal on the scale of the exposes that have dominated headlines on these industries, the complex nature of our global supply chains means that exploitation is likely to be tainting the goods and services used by hotels and their consumers everyday. So why wait until exploitation is found before taking action to prevent it happening in the first place?

A pro-active and preventative attitude is what spurred on a group of UK-based hoteliers, procurement experts and anti-slavery experts to meet and discuss steps they could take to eradicate slavery risk from their businesses before it could become a problem. Meeting in November 2016, the group identified three main risk areas for modern slavery in the hotel industry: hotel use, use of labour providers and exploitation hidden further down the supply chain in the manufacture of the countless goods that are grown, processed and shipped from source countries to UK hotels all over the world. The Stop Slavery Hotel Industry Network was officially launched by Meenal Sachdev, Director and Founder of Shiva Foundation, at the 2016 Thomson Reuters Foundation Trust Conference. Founding members include, among others, Shiva Hotels, Hilton and Bespoke Hotels. Since starting, membership has grown to include others across the UK. The group of dedicated businesses meet quarterly to lay out and work towards collective goals that the Network can take to tackle modern slavery risk within the UK hotel industry.

For the UK hotel sector, the franchise-brand model of management and ownership is a key challenge to multi-stakeholder dialogue. Many hotels operate as part of a chain or franchise consortium where they share brands, marketing, management and architectural design with a number of other companies, meaning the business model can be multi-layered with a number of stakeholders involved in decision making. A consistent HR policy across all hotels and employees across a portfolio is one way to counter this: this is where the Network comes in. We enable and encourage stakeholders to share good practice and industry experience, facilitating dialogue between these different actors. The Network provides a space where we can foster constructive communication on how to implement coherent anti-trafficking policies within what can feel like a fragmented business model. Our initial goals are simple:

  • To work collectively and commit to meet to meet regularly and share best practice;
  • To increase awareness of modern slavery at all levels of industry and outside of it; and
  • To create guidance for the industry to work as a whole when tackling modern slavery.

In our first year we’re already making good progress on meeting those goals. To mark 2017 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (30 July), the Network launched its website (stopslaverynetwork.org.uk) dedicated to communicating publicly its goals and mission to industry actors, other sectors, civil society and business. The website outlines the problem of modern slavery both globally and in the UK, and demonstrates how the hotel industry in particular is uniquely affected by modern slavery and human trafficking. We are also proud to have launched an industry-specific resource hub on the site featuring publications from government, civil society and business designed to provide a starting point for other stakeholders in the industry to design and implement their own anti-slavery business initiatives. The hub currently features over 100 resources from over 35 organisations, and has received support and endorsement from the British Hospitality Association, the International Tourism Partnership and COMBAT whose resources are amongst those featured on the hub.

As we look ahead to the third and fourth meetings of our first year, the Network hopes to publish a set of industry-specific guidance on how to ensure supply chain transparency across UK hotels. Using existing guidance, we are pooling the experience of our members to produce a good practice framework for hotel businesses who want to start their own anti-slavery initiatives and join the wider business community in tackling modern slavery. Our ethos and mission are simple: using what we know and who we know to combat this horrific crime wherever it could be occurring across hotels across the UK.