Modern Slavery and the Hospitality Sector: How to protect your business against human trafficking, forced labour and labour exploitation

Exploitation and forced labour are widespread in global supply chains. The reality of this, and how the hospitality sector might deal with it, is the subject of a series of seminars run by the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (https://www.liv.ac.uk/csis/people/). This is collaboration between the International Slavery Museum and the University of Liverpool and the first event was held at the iconic Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building in Liverpool on 1st June 2015.

Fran Hughes of the International Tourism Partnership, one of three presenters, explained that NGOs such as ECPAT and Unseen had been key in raising awareness of human trafficking within the sector. These organisations had identified ways it might affect the industry. Examples highlighted were the risks associated with using employment agencies and high staff turnover and need for seasonal workers which can all increase the risk of labour exploitation. Some organisations are fearful of identifying themselves if they do discover exploitation in their workforce. A function of ITP, however, is to provide a confidential forum for the sector to address such issues. Hughes stressed the importance of organisations staying informed about the risks of trafficking, identifying areas of potential risk in their own organisations, and developing a statement and policies about their approach to dealing with this. Good practice examples included organisations which provide education and training to former victims of trafficking, to reduce their vulnerability.

Matt Crossman of Rathbones Greenbank Investments spoke next and stressed the importance of transparency in supply chains. The business case for addressing this issue is strong as illicit trade, which includes trafficking and forced labour, costs the global economy $150bn per annum. It is crucial that organisations engage with their supply chains proactively, rather than wait for the potential fallout which may occur if human rights abuses are uncovered. The crisis which ensues from any revelations of this kind does not provide a good basis for making policy. Instead, it’s best to have a human rights policy in place, showing that your organisation has set itself related goals and that these are monitored and reported on.

Dr Alex Balch of University of Liverpool presented the final session, discussing the UK Hotels Policy Guide: How to protect your business against human trafficking, forced labour and labour exploitation (https://www.liv.ac.uk/media/livacuk/publicpolicypractice/12p_booklet.pdf). This is designed to help businesses meet their responsibility to promote human rights and to understand and address any associated risks. Corporate Social Responsibility in this sector has, in the past, been primarily about environmental issues. Now, however, it now needs to focus on human rights, with large corporations able to bring about change because of their power within the supply chain. Dr Balch identified the Modern Slavery Act as driving change in this area because it imposes requirements on businesses. Companies are, he argued aware that something needs to be done and are motivated to a, but are unsure about what to do next – the guide can help with this.

Dr Balch also emphasised the value of working together in local networks to bring together business, the public and charitable sectors, higher education and law enforcement in confronting the reality of modern slavery. The theme of sharing information resonated throughout the seminar which was attended by academics, representatives of local businesses and consumers. Discussion points included the indicators of trafficking that front-line hospitality employees might look for and the difficulties for small businesses in tackling the issue due to lack of access to resources. It is hoped the dialogue will continue, with the next exchange of ideas to take place with a focus on survivors of trafficking, taking place in the autumn.

Kate Clayton-Hathway, Oxford Brookes Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice

This blog reflects only the author’s views and not those if the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of information contained in this blog.

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