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Uncovering the underlying enablers of modern slavery in hospitality

Written by Gabriella Jiménez, Communications Manager, Shiva Foundation

Despite being illegal, modern slavery and human trafficking are still pervasive issues in the UK, with experts estimating that the number of affected individuals may be as high as 100,000. The hospitality industry has been labelled as a high-risk sector for modern slavery, and concerns have increased over the past year with news stories surrounding the disappearance of asylum seeker children from hotels. For these reasons, it is crucial for the hospitality sector to understand the exploitation risks it faces, both old and new, and how to mitigate them.

Over the past decade, Shiva Foundation has been a prominent actor in the hospitality industry, dedicated to shedding light on the issue of modern slavery and supporting businesses in their efforts to address it in their operations. In this article, we will explore what we consider to be some of the key factors enabling modern slavery within the contemporary hotel sector.

Understanding the drivers and enablers of modern slavery

The root causes of modern slavery, also known as drivers, can be complex and vary from one situation to another. They often include factors such as poverty, lack of job opportunities, discrimination, conflict and instability, weak legal protections, and global supply chains. When these drivers are present, they create circumstances in which individuals are left vulnerable to exploitation.

Yet, modern slavery’s persistence doesn’t rely solely on these drivers; it thrives due to the presence of enablers. These enablers are the practical mechanisms that make it possible for modern slavery to flourish. In this article we are going delve deep into what, we believe, exploitation enablers may be in the hotel sector.

Understanding modern slavery enablers in hospitality

  • Hotel layout and facilities

    The layout and facilities of a hotel can significantly impact its vulnerability to modern slavery. Large, intricate layouts, hidden spaces, remote locations, and nightime economy venues like private nightclubs can create environments conducive to exploitation. Criminal networks often find it easier to perpetrate their crimes in such settings.

  • Guest demographics

    Hotels accommodating solo travellers, foreign nationals, vulnerable populations, or trafficked individuals are at higher risk. These guests may be isolated, unfamiliar with local laws, or lacking support networks, making them easier targets for exploitation.

  • Price points

    Hotels at different price points may be susceptible to varying forms of modern slavery. For example, higher-priced establishments could attract individuals seeking to exploit domestic servants, while lower-priced hotels may be preferable for other forms such as criminal exploitation.

  • Location

    The location of a hotel can also intensify its vulnerability to modern slavery. Proximity to vulnerable communities (for example people with insecure migration status or high numbers of homelessness), transit hubs like airports and ports, remote areas, and red-light districts offer criminal networks opportunities to exploit marginalised individuals.

  • Hotel operations

    Hotels with inadequate staff training to identify signs, limited security measures (guards and CCTV), cash transactions for guest room payments, ineffective guest screening, and limited collaboration with law enforcement and support services can create gaps that contribute to a hotel's heightened vulnerability to modern slavery.

What next?

We hope that this article helps to serve as an initial guide to modern slavery risks in the hotel sector. It is important to mainstream awareness and training of modern slavery with your staff, so they can identify and prevent instances of exploitation within your hotel operations. For more information on training and advice on addressing modern slavery throughout your operations, you can refer to our Stop Slavery Blueprint.

Understanding the factors that enable modern slavery in hotels and using the tools provided in the Stop Slavery Blueprint will mean that together, we can work towards eradicating modern slavery from our society and set higher standards for ethical conduct across the industry.