A hotel group has become the first in the UK to launch an anti-slavery programme across its hotels. Aimed at raising awareness among both guests and staff of human trafficking, the project, by Shiva Hotels, will include a training programme for 400 employees and displaying statements in lobbies and on in-room TVs.
The full extent of modern slavery in the UK hospitality industry is not known but Professor Alex Paraskevas of the University of West London, who led a two-year study into the problem called Combat, said it is estimated that there are 115,000 human trafficking victims in the hospitality sector in Europe of whom 93,500 are sexually exploited and nearly 7,000 are labour exploitation victims working in hotels. In the UK the total number of people in slavery is estimated at 11,700 but there are no official figures for individual sectors.
The Shiva Hotels project is aimed at identifying both types of victims by encouraging staff to look out for unusual behaviour, such as guests concealing who they are with or unusual repeat bookings made in cash, and also making staff alert to those who may be being exploited by suppliers providing workers. It is hoped that the project will go some way towards getting a clearer idea of the actual numbers of victims staying or working in hotels in the UK.
“One thing we realised very quickly is that there is not a lot of data that is specific to hotels, and the only way to get that data is to recognise cases – which is why we need to train our staff, so it’s a slight catch 22 situation,” said Nishma Jethwa of the Shiva Foundation, who coordinated the project.
“If we get more reporting [due to this project] that’s almost better as it will show our training is working,” she added.
Following a pilot project at the DoubleTree by Hilton Excel in London, staff in five other Shiva hotels, including Kingsway Hall Hotel in Covent Garden and the Hampton by Hilton in Waterloo, will receive training. The initiative will be launched on 30 July to coincide with the United Nation’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
The Modern Slavery Act, introduced in 2016, made it a legal requirement for companies with a global turnover of £36m or more to publish what they are doing to prevent slavery within their business and supply chains. Thanks, in part, to the new law, and the advocacy work of anti-slavery charities, awareness of the issue is slowly growing among both business and the public, but the Shiva initiative is significant in being the first business to go beyond awareness raising to encourage staff and guests to report anything suspicious.
Recent cases of modern-day slavery include that of Abul Kamal Azad from Bangladesh who spent more than a year enslaved in a remote Scottish hotel after arriving in London thinking he was going to work as a chef in one of the capital’s hotels.
The Home Office has faced criticism for its visa policy that ties domestic workers to their employer, leaving them unable to escape abuse.
Shiva’s programme also aims to uncover cases of exploited outsourced workers in the hospitality industry. In Spain, an estimated 100,000 chambermaids are working together to protest poor wages and working conditions. Las Kellys, as the group is known, say they have seen their pay cut by 40% and their workload increase following labour reforms that allowed hotels to outsource to companies that pay less, forcing the chambermaids to work in conditions that amount to semi-slavery.