Anyone in the hospitality industry will be able to tell you that, in order to provide the best experience for customers, much of the work that goes into running a successful establishment happens ‘behind the scenes’. From room cleaners and caregivers, to security guards, kitchen porters, and gardeners: these workers’ labour is often unseen, away from the eyes of guests. As such, they are particularly vulnerable to hidden exploitation and slavery, even at the most exclusive of venues. 

Contract workers 

Frequently, the workers most vulnerable to slavery in the hospitality industry are contracters. Many venues utilise third-party service providers to make up their low-skilled and low-paid workforce. However, the consequence of this is that contractors are often less protected than their in-house counterparts in areas such as paid sick leave and paid annual leave which may not be mandated by law. As a result, many contractors are either forced to work involuntarily or take out financially restrictive loans in order to stay afloat.

These related issues of unpaid leave and debt bondage have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the nature of the hospitality industry making it impossible to work from home, hospitality workers are more exposed to infection, and therefore need to isolate themselves more often. However, without paid sick leave, many cannot afford to take time off without getting into debt. The infected worker is also at risk of spreading COVID-19 to customers and other workers, so, ensuring that hospitality workers are paid fairly during leave should be a priority both for those seeking to prevent potential exploitation through debt bondage, and ensure the safety of their establishment during the global pandemic. In its worst forms, debt bondage can amount to modern slavery. 

Photo by Gil Ribeiro on Unsplash

Migrant Workers 

While they also happen to be frequently employed as contract workers, migrant workers are also exposed to an extra dimension of vulnerability in the hospitality industry. Part of the reason for this is due to travel costs incurred by the process of immigration. Immigrating is a costly process, heightened by the fact that many migrant workers in low-skilled low-pay industries pay high recruitment fees to secure jobs in saturated markets, these fees can amount to thousands of US Dollars. Debts incurred during the process can make it impossible for migrant workers to take unpaid leave. Migrant workers may also have family in their home countries that depend on remissions sent back from their wages, which only worsens their financial precarity. 

Exploitation Indirectly Perpetuated by the Hospitality Sector 

Although just as pernicious, much of the slavery associated with the hospitality sector is not directly related to the day-to-day running of the establishment. One often overlooked area is the construction of buildings themselves, such as hotels and casinos. Workers in the construction industry are at high risk for exploitative recruitment, high recruitment fees, and issues such as withholding of wages. Similarly under-addressed is modern slavery exposure in hospitality supply chains,where risk is found in a range of industries from farming, to fishing, to manufacturing of the food sold in restaurants, hotel furnishings, and so forth. Finally, hospitality venues are exposed to the risk of forced sex work, where threats or debts are used to control vulnerable people for the purpose of generating profits through the sale of sex.

To learn more about modern slavery in the hospitality industry, and the most effective strategies to prevent this issue during and beyond Covid-19, explore our Hospitality Toolkit.

Author: Scott Thomson