Modern slavery isn’t something that springs to mind when most people think of hotels. But sometimes it takes a trigger to inspire action. My efforts to fight modern slavery were first sparked after hearing about the horrific experiences of child trafficking five years ago at the Trust Women Conference, an annual event committed to finding real solutions to empower women and to fight slavery worldwide.
As the Head of Sustainability of Shiva Hotels – a hotel group which manages several major London hotels – I focused on looking at the risks facing that specific sector. Since doing so, I’ve realised the urgent need for action. I heard about Emily, a young girl, who was offered her first job by the alleged owner of a local restaurant. The restaurant, however, is not where Emily ended up. She was instead taken to a hotel where she was drugged, beaten and forced to have sex with 60 men over three days.
At this year’s Trust Women Conference, which took place last week in London, hundreds of people gathered to hear many more stories of vulnerable individuals like Emily who face abuse and violence. The stories we heard inspired attendees to take action to tackle violence against women and modern slavery. Fittingly, the conference fell in the middle of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a period of focused action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
Having been moved by the Trust Women Conference five years ago, I felt privileged to unveil the new Stop Slavery Hotel Industry Network at this year’s conference. The initiative, which is led by Shiva Foundation, will help representatives from across the hotel industry globally address risks in their facilities, employment practices and supply chains. Working collaboratively, the members (including Hilton, Shiva Hotels and Bespoke Hotels, among others) will develop methods to be shared throughout the hotel and hospitality sector.
As Emily’s story shows, hotels can unknowingly be used to traffick victims for sexual exploitation, a crime that is largely perpetrated against women. But sexual exploitation is just one of the issues the industry faces. Labour exploitation is of growing concern, as this harrowing story of a Bangladeshi man who became enslaved as a worker in a remote Scottish hotel demonstrates. Indeed, those looking for employment in hotels may be forced to work against their will, or mistreated and paid little to no wages. In addition, supply chains present a cause for concern. Goods and services purchased by hotels, including linen and bath products, can represent hidden risks in terms of workers within supply chains potentially being mistreated. The use of multi-tier recruitment systems combined with the layered structure of hotels, which often involves brands franchising their properties, can mean that unscrupulous practices are difficult to detect. Effective communication and collaboration are key to addressing these issues.
The hotel network, as a platform for collaboration, will raise awareness among hoteliers and guests of the risks of modern slavery in the sector, and enable solutions and pathways to emerge. In conjunction with the launch of the network, we at Shiva Hotels are currently piloting a blueprint to tackle these issues at the DoubleTree by Hilton in London, which is owned and managed by Shiva Hotels. We look forward to sharing the insights from this model, which includes practical guidance for all levels of hotel staff on how to reduce risk and fight against trafficking. With 180,000 businesses involved in UK hospitality and tourism, the potential impact of this network is huge.
There are many practical ways consumers can help. For example, the TraffickCam app helps combat sex trafficking by encouraging hotel guests to upload photos of their rooms. These photographs can be vital evidence to prosecute sex traffickers. In addition, guests should feel confident to ask questions of the hotels they stay in to ensure they are comfortable with their employment practices and commitment to clean supply chains.
Every individual has a role to play, and every industry can drive this change. I ask the UK’s hotel sector to come forward and join us on this journey. Collectively, we can create a vital movement to protect the lives of thousands of people.