More must be done to combat human trafficking in hotels

14 Aug, 2017 | Blogs, Latest, News, Slavery and Trafficking

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More must be done to combat human trafficking in hotels

Ben Cartwright

The problem of human trafficking in the hospitality sector

On 30 July, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime chose human trafficking as the subject of its 2017 World Day. Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines human trafficking, in short, as the transporting of persons with the threat or use of force, for the purpose of exploiting that person. Much of the exploitation that occurs will be of the person’s body or labour. Recently, the International Labour Organization estimated that there are 21 million victims of forced labour globally. Further, after a two-year study into human trafficking, Professor Alex Paraskevas of the University of West London estimated that there are 115,000 human trafficking victims in the European hospitality sector, a staggering number by all accounts. Of these, he estimated that 93,500 are sexually exploited, and 7,000 are victims of labour exploitation working in hotels (for more information about this study, part of an initiative called COMBAT, click here). Given the obvious scale of the problem it is important to fight trafficking and work to bring it to an end.

Compared with the high numbers of trafficking victims in the hospitality sector who are sexually exploited, the 7,000 victims working in hotels may appear insignificant; the victims who are sexually exploited are in much greater numbers. However, it is these 7,000 that hotel guests are more likely to come across. Whether they are maids (most commonly) or other hotel workers, most of these human trafficking victims are often in full view of hotel guests. However, the personal circumstances of these victims are often hidden to the members of the public and indeed hotel managers, who will seldom care about the backgrounds of their workers unless it affects their efficiency. As a result, there is a growing ‘elephant in the room’ of human trafficking in the hospitality sector; the effects of trafficking increase where hoteliers are wilfully unaware of the circumstances of their workers.

The impact of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has to some extent reduced the scale of the problem among large companies and hotel chains. Under section 54 of the Act, companies with a global turnover of £36 million or more have an obligation to publish what they are doing to prevent slavery, and human trafficking, within their business and supply chains. So, hotel groups with the requisite global turnover – not merely UK turnover – must ensure that any evidence of trafficking is pursued.

Such a move is to be welcomed and should go a long way in combatting trafficking. It ensures transparency and promotes action among the larger businesses which operate in the UK; these measures can only have positive repercussions for the victims of human trafficking, and should help identify the 7,000 victims of labour exploitation in hotels.

A problem with the legislation, however, is that it excludes hotels with lower turnover. Consequently, independent hotels and most B&Bs remain under the radar of the new laws, so any trafficking victims here would have to identify themselves or wait to be found by the police. However, with over 10,000 slaves estimated in the UK, identifying all victims of trafficking in the hospitality sector becomes an impossible task without private sector support.

Solutions to reducing the victims human trafficking

One solution to identifying more victims of trafficking and reducing the presence of slavery in supply chains is encouraging self-regulation within businesses. Whilst there is no legal impetus to do this, public pressure may be used in favour of encouraging action.

A second solution would be one of training staff, and encouraging them to take action if they believe a person to be a trafficking victim. Shiva Hotels, a management company that runs prestigious hotels such as Kingsway Hall in Covent Garden and Millennium Bridge House overlooking the Thames, in July launched an anti-slavery programme. In this, through training and information screens in hotels, they encourage staff to look out for unusual behaviour of guests and suppliers in the hotel, to identify evidence of human trafficking.

The Shiva Hotels scheme is significant as it is the first major private initiative to go further than what is mandated by law. Encouraging other businesses to follow Shiva’s example is crucial to ensure that greater progress is made in the fight to end human trafficking.

*Ben Cartwright is part of René Cassin’s Modern Slavery Campaign Group, find out more about how to get involved by emailing


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