Modern slavery, which is defined as the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation, can be a serious issue for the hospitality sector. Throughout the world, this issue can pose reputational risks for the entire industry, from small budget hotels to five-star hotels at the top of the industry.

Because of the clandestine nature of this problem, many modern slavery situations within hotels are ignored or go unnoticed. There are four main touchpoints where modern slavery can occur in the hospitality industry: 

  • Forced Prostitution: The privacy that hotels offer and the transient nature of their guests mean that they can be prime venues for commercial sexual exploitation, a term used to describe a person in forced prostitution. The victims of this crime are controlled by their captors using threats or debt for the purpose of generating profits through the sale of sex. 
  • Supply Chains: Hotels procure a wide range of products, including seafood, furniture and linen, some of which can be harvested or produced with forced labour. For example, fishing industries around the world have been found to have seafood that is caught by modern slaves. 
  • Third-Party Contractors: Hotels sometimes use third-party service providers as house cleaners, caregivers, gardeners and dishwashers. Some of these people might be migrant workers who are in employment situations that include debt bondage or forced labour. 
  • Construction: Modern slaves can be found working on major hotel construction sites. Within the range of subcontractors supporting a major build, there are sometimes exploitative approaches used to recruit unskilled workers whose wages are withheld and never paid. 


COVID-19 and the Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry has felt some of the largest impacts of the spread of COVID-19. Travel has halted, and many countries have enforced quarantines and social-gathering bans which have resulted in the closure of many bars, restaurants, and hotels. As this situation continues to unfold, many hotels are facing empty rooms, which is having a devastating impact on their overall business. As a result of this crisis, there are many reasons why hotel workers may be more vulnerable to modern slavery during the ongoing pandemic period and beyond. These include loss of income, increased debt, low awareness of workplace labour rights, requirements to work excessive overtime to cover staffing gaps, and the inability to safely return to home countries. 


Why Should a Company Carry Out a Self-Assessment?

Understanding the risk of modern slavery within hotel supply chains is now a priority for many hotels. For the past ten years, modern slavery has become an ever-increasing business risk for the hospitality sector. Governments and regulators around the world are clamping down, and more companies will need to show they have done everything in their power to reduce modern slavery in their operations or face condemnation and reputational damages. Beginning in 2012, transparency legislation has been put in place that requires major companies to indicate what they’re doing to address this problem. We are also seeing a rise in the number of class action lawsuits against major companies, including hotels. Modern slavery is now on the radar of the media and NGOs, many of whom are unafraid to publicly shame and thrust brands into the spotlight for failing to address it. Finally, in the investment world, there has been a concerted effort to include metrics related to modern slavery within environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks. Hotels that don’t pay attention to this trend may find their investment options will become more restrictive. 

Understanding the risks associated with modern slavery is a key step towards protecting the hospitality industry from becoming exposed to them. One way to do this is to have your organisation take the Business Index Self-Assessment. This confidential tool, which can be easily completed in less than ten minutes, will allow your company to identify how it rates on a scale from one to a hundred. The score achieved can be compared with the average scores achieved by similar companies.  This assessment will allow a hotel to review its existing performance related to a range of modern slavery initiatives, assess any gaps between the current and desired performance, and assist leadership to put in place actions to improve this performance. 

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

A Good Time to Address the Modern Slavery Issue

The hospitality sector is well positioned to identify and address modern slavery in all of its forms. With the right training and tools, it can have a positive impact on many vulnerable lives. Following the completion of company self-assessments, the Mekong Club is supporting and advising hotels in our network. The benefit of knowing how a company rates is that it allows a company to explore options. Below are some interventions that can be considered: 


  • Modern Slavery Guidelines: Hotels can update their internal and external policies and codes of conduct to include statements related to modern slavery. This can help them to outline their commitment and operational response. The Mekong Club offers a modern slavery guideline to help with this process. 
  • Modern Slavery Awareness Training: Comprehensive modern slavery awareness training is being provided to employees, contractors and subcontractors to help them understand the issue and address it. To be effective, this training should be provided in the local language of the employees. Infographics and awareness-raising posters can be distributed to employees to remind them of their responsibilities.
  • Modern Slavery Audit Checklists: More hotels are monitoring service contractors, construction sites and suppliers using comprehensive audits, surprise inspections, worker interviews, and document inspections. The Mekong Club has a modern slavery audit checklist that can be used to identify red flags related to forced labour cases.
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Addressing commercial sexual exploitation requires hotels to train their employees to identify and report suspicious behaviour. Certain staff, in areas such as security, reception and housekeeping, are in a better position to spot signs of human trafficking. It is important that hotels assign responsibilities to supervisors so that action is taken when a case is identified. 

The hospitality sector has a distinct advantage in being able to identify and address modern slavery in all of its forms. With the right training and tools, it can have a positive impact on thousands of lives.

If you are a hospitality professional, take our Anti-Slavery Scorecard Self-Assessment to see how your company compares to others in the hospitality industry and learn more about the key role that you have to play in ending modern slavery.

Author: Matthew Friedman