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Here's what hotel companies need to do to combat modern slavery

As more people travel for work and leisure than ever before, the travel and tourism sector has become one of the fastest growing in the world, accounting for 10.2% of global GDP and employing one in ten people worldwide.

The risks of modern slavery in hotels are well-known and well-documented. The hotel sector’s workforce often consists of those vulnerable to exploitation, including low-skilled and low-paid workers, migrant workers, and women. Hotel supply chains are long, complex, and opaque, reaching around the globe to source everything from furniture to uniforms to food. Yet a new report released today finds that the industry is failing to combat these risks in their operations and supply chains.

Beyond compliance in the hotel sector: A review of UK Modern Slavery Act statements reveals an alarming lack of action on modern slavery from the largest hotel companies operating across the world. The research from WikiRate, the Walk Free Initiative of the Minderoo Foundation, and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre analyses statements from 71 hotel companies required to report under the UK Modern Slavery Act.

Beyond Compliance is the first report to take a sector-specific approach of this scale to the UK Modern Slavery Act statements and examines whether hotel companies are going “beyond compliance” to identify and mitigate risks specific to their industry and to respond meaningfully to the legislation.

The industry’s heavily franchised and fragmented business structure makes it difficult to look into supply chains and determine which companies are responsible for protecting workers’ rights. In any given hotel, owners, brands, and operators are involved in the running of just one property. Companies may try to hide behind these relationships to avoid responsibility. But they ought to be accountable for protecting workers from modern slavery and exploitation, wherever it occurs in their operations and supply chain.

For a consumer-facing sector so dependent on brand image, it is astonishing that hotel companies are failing to take seriously the minimum reporting requirements intended to safeguard its workforce, suppliers, and people passing through their premises.

Only 8% of hotel companies disclosed that they require employers, not employees, to bear the costs of migrant worker recruitment; only 18% recognized the vulnerabilities of agency or migrant workers to modern slavery; and only 14% reported specific policies to prevent sexual exploitation from occurring on their premises.

And just one in four of the 71 hotel companies’ modern slavery statements met the minimum requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, meaning that they appeared on the company home page, were signed by a Director or equivalent, and were explicitly approved by the board. Only half of companies produced more than one statement between 2016 and 2019, despite the mandatory requirement to report annually.

To improve reporting and ultimately business practice in this sector, the report makes three main recommendations to hotel companies.

  • First, companies must carry out thorough due diligence on human rights, with a focus on sector-specific risks. Without reflecting how modern slavery impacts the hospitality sector specifically, company action will be superficial at best.
  • Second, engagement with peers is key to driving higher standards across hotel operations and supply chains. A multi-stakeholder approach is essential to coordinate an effective, sector-wide response. Yet with the exceptions of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP), the Stop Slavery Hotel Industry Network, and Shiva Hotels’ Blueprint, hotels are failing to collaborate to tackle a collective issue.
  • Third, companies should improve transparency and their modern slavery reporting by disclosing incidents of modern slavery and the steps taken to remedy them.

This report shows that as long as hotels continue to fail to even acknowledge these known risks, they will leave their workforce, those using hotel premises, and those working further down their supply chains, vulnerable to forced labour and exploitation.