INTERNATIONAL REPORT—A global problem has been receiving more media attention lately and puts hotels in the epicenter of discussions around the prevention of sex tourism and human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the third largest crime industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, accounting for US$15.5 billion in profits annually in industrialized countries.
Globally, some 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. State Department. Of that group, more than 70% are female and 50% are children. A separate 2009 United Nations report, however, stated approximately 20% of all trafficking victims are children. Actual figures can be difficult to pinpoint because the victims are, by definition, hidden and a common definition for “slavery” has not been established.
The travel and tourism industry has established a formal code, recognizing that it can be proactive at the forefront of trafficking of children in particular.
The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (“the Code”) is an initiative funded by UNICEF and supported by the UNWTO. It was founded in Sweden in 2002 and has grown into a global mission.
According to the organization: “The problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children and its connection with the tourism trade is extremely complex. While the tourism industry is not accused for encouraging this un-wanted phenomenon, it has been asked to collaborate and to react against the use of its networks and establishments for this purpose.”
Minneapolis-based Carlson has long been affiliated with the Code.
“The issue of child exploitation and child trafficking is a new crime which has increased and spread to all over the world—even in our neighborhood,” said Beathe-Jeanette Lunde, executive VP, people development, responsible business, safety and security, Carlson. “We see it as an opportunity to be open and proactive about this crime so all our stakeholders, be it employees, guests or suppliers, can feel safe while working or doing business with us.”
Bill Ford of Cape Town, South Africa-based Protea Hospitality Corporation, said via email he would like to see hotels help solve the problem rather than simply sign the Code: “I would rather see the global tourism industry actively working to eradicate child sex tourism than for everyone to line up, sign a document and feel that by doing that, their responsibility ends. The fight against this scourge will probably never be won, but actions always speak louder than words.
“Hotels are the tourist accommodation mainstays in most global destinations, and it is therefore essential to confront this possibility head on, no matter how distressing,” said the group operations director for Protea. The company is in the process of becoming a member of the Code.
Michelle Guelbart, interim secretariat coordinator at ECPAT-USA (the U.S. based organization that helps manage the Code), approaches hotel companies to educate them about what might already be going on, understanding that “they might not know that there is sexual exploitation of children on their properties. This may be because it is not directly in their faces or they do not have a word for what they are seeing.”
Guelbart said she emphasizes awareness: “It is important for (hotel operators) to know that traffickers and pimps are taking advantage of their lack of policies and staff training by using their properties for selling and abusing children. … This may be the only opportunity for exploited children to be saved, as they are often isolated from mainstream society by their traffickers.”
Hilton Worldwide signed the Code last year after it was involved in reports that the Chinese police found a brothel operating in an independently owned karaoke club in a Hilton hotel in southern China last summer, according to a story in the Washington Business Journal.
More recently, Wyndham Worldwide committed to joining the Code in July and vowed to improve its staff training and procedures after reports of gang-led child prostitution rings in California hotels drew media and activist attention to the company’s hotels, CNN reported. Wyndham’s hotel system consisted of approximately 7,220 properties and 612,900 rooms, as of 30 June 2011.
Also in July, the Minister for Tourism and Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India, launched the Code of Conduct for Safe and Honorable Tourism through the support of UN.GIFT. The code was drafted by UNODC with the Ministry in collaboration with Save the Children India and the Pacific Asia Tourism Association.
Roma Singh, Regional Director (Western & Central Region), Indiatourism, Mumbai told Travel Talk India: "We are going to educate major hotel players in western and central region of India this year. We are also encouraging hotels from all categories to implement practices for safe tourism. Hoteliers can also approach us for training their staff on Code of Conduct."
Carlson makes the issue a part of its training.
Protea Hospitality Corporation
In 2010, it trained 158 Radisson hotels and 447 corporate employees in the U.S. in a program called Living Responsible Business, Lunde said. One of the modules is dedicated to creating awareness of what child exploitation and child trafficking is.
“We include a video clip from the newly released ‘Not my Life’ documentary as well as an internal video showing scenarios our employees might come across,” she said. “After each situation, we stop and discuss with the employees how to deal with a possible situation like the video describes. The program also includes a message from Carlson Chairman Marilyn Carlson Nelson and her view and expectation to our employees.”
“Not My Life” is a part of CNN’s Freedom Project: Ending Modern Day Slavery and received support from The Carlson Family Foundation.
Ford said staff empowerment is essential.
“One of the cornerstones of this culture is the empowerment of all members of our STAFF who are expected to act with responsibility and vigilance in everything they do. To this extent where a STAFF member becomes aware of any untoward activity happening on one of our premises, this will be brought to the attention of senior management who will act in the appropriate manner.