Media Release20 Nov 2019

Hotel sector failing to protect workers ahead of Australian MSA anniversary

New report has found a majority of the hotels sector is failing to meet even the minimum requirements of the UK Modern Slavery Act.

Photo Credit: gratisography.

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.

The report assessed 71 hotel companies and found that only a quarter meet the minimum requirements of the UK Modern Slavery Act:[1] The vast majority of hotel companies, 76 per cent, failed to disclose any information on how they check and address risks to workers in their supply chains. And, only 13 per cent of companies reported specific policies to prevent the sexual exploitation of workers- another requirement of the Act.

The Australian Modern Slavery Act (MSA) was passed in December 2018, and companies will report against it for the first time early next year. The new findings are a timely reminder for companies to act early to address the risks of modern slavery.

The hotel sector report – produced by Walk Free, an initiative of the Minderoo Foundation, in partnership with WikiRate, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Australian National University – shows an alarming lack of effort to tackle modern slavery in a high-risk sector.[2]

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 the new report shows that government legislation needed to go further.

“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,” Ms Morris said.

“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.”

“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.

“The reports’ findings are particularly timely now that Australian companies will be reporting for the first time. The Australian and UK governments can learn from this research and make changes to their respective Modern Slavery Acts, that will result in better outcomes for vulnerable people.”

UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton welcomed the new report and said the hotels sector needed to take a more proactive approach.

“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,” Dame Thornton said.

“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 per cent of hotel companies in scope of the [UK] Act are found to be legally compliant. I hope the information revealed by this report goes some way towards alleviating this risk.”

The full report, entitled “Beyond compliance in the hotel sector: A review of UK Modern Slavery Act statements” can be downloaded here.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.)