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Press Release

20 Nov 2019

Hotel sector failing to combat modern slavery and sexual exploitation, finds new study

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  • Just one in four (18/71) hotel company statements meet the minimum requirements of the UK Modern Slavery Act
  • Only 14% (10/71) reported specific policies to prevent sexual exploitation in their hotels and supply chains
  • 68% (48/71) did not disclose any information on the risks in their operations and supply chains
  • Just 6/71 (8%) prohibit workers being charged recruitment fees, protecting migrant workers from debt bondage
  • Hotels’ performance ‘disappointing’ says UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton

London, UK - The human horror of forced labour, debt bondage, and sex trafficking is a stark contrast to the hotel sector’s promise of holiday fun in idyllic locations. 

But a new report (out today) reveals that hotels are failing to protect employees, agency workers, and workers in supply chains from forced labour and sexual exploitation.  

It assesses 71 hotel companies and finds that only one in four (18/71) meet the minimum requirements of the UK Modern Slavery Act.* 68% (48/71) of hotel companies did not disclose any information about the risks in their direct operations and their supply chains, including how they check and address risks to workers.  

Just 6/71 (8%) of hotel companiesprohibit workers being charged recruitment fees, by requiring that employers bear those costs, thereby protecting migrant workers from debt bondage. Only 14% (10/71) of companies reported specific policies to prevent the sexual exploitation of workers.  

This report - produced by Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free initiative in partnership with WikiRate, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Australian National University – shows an alarming lack of effort to tackle modern slavery in a high risk sector. ** 

The report was welcomed as “important and revealing” by the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, who called the hotel sector’s performance “disappointing” and said she hopes the report will help “alleviate this risk” of modern slavery.  

It calls on the UK Government to show leadership and enforce the Act against non-compliant companies and lays out practical steps for hotels to improve their anti-slavery efforts.  

Walk Free CEO Jenn Morris said: “Despite the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act four years ago, this report shows hotels are failing to meet the legal reporting requirements, let alone moving beyond compliance to protect against modern slavery risks.  

“Everybody loves to go on holiday but how would you feel if the porter taking your suitcase was a migrant worker trapped in debt bondage? Or if the person cleaning your room was forced to work long hours for little pay? It is a sobering reality that requires action from the hotel sector.”

She added: “It comes down to two things: a lack of commitment by hotel companies to do the right thing, and a failure of the UK Government to hold companies to account.

“Without effective implementation and a renewed commitment from business to combat modern slavery, the estimated 16 million people in forced labour in the private economy around the world remain at risk.”

Dame Sara Thornton, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:  

“This new report takes an innovative and data-driven approach to assessing modern slavery statements produced by hotel companies, with volunteers across the academic and online communities checking statements against legal requirements and additional metrics.

“Compliance with the reporting requirements of the Act remains a significant issue and the quality of statements varies enormously. This is true of the hotel sector, where complex supply chains and seasonal labour present additional challenges, potentially increasing the risk of modern slavery taking place.

“Taking a sector-specific approach is important and revealing. It is disappointing that only 25% of hotel companies in scope of the Act are found to be legally compliant. I hope the information revealed by this report go some way towards alleviating this risk.”


Media contact:

UK/ EU: Adam Barnett, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, , E: [email protected]

Australia/ Asia: Tess Ingram, Minderoo, M: +61 448 922 364, E:[email protected]

Note to editors

*The 71 companies were chosen as they have an annual turnover of over £36 million and with operations in the UK. Companies that meet these criteria must publish a slavery and human trafficking statement each financial year under the UK Modern Slavery Act.

** The hotel sector has a high-risk of exploitation due to its vulnerable workforce, complex supply chains with little transparency, and limited oversight from brands and multinational hotel companies as a result of extensive franchising.

(In the franchising model, hotel brands lend their name and customer care standards to third parties, but usually stipulate far less about the standards they expect for the employment of workers, even in countries where abuse is endemic.)