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During the week when the world's most powerful leaders met in Davos to discuss - among other things - global inequality, I had the opportunity to be back in India, experiencing both the most luxurious and privileged elements of society as well as some of the most excluded and most exploited.
It’s hard to imagine the degree of desperation and poverty that might lead a family to sell daughters as young as eight years old into slavery. Yet, according to one of the NGOs we are now working with in Delhi, Courage Homes, every day in India, 40 girls under 15 years old are sold into the sex trade.
I met some very brave and courageous people who daily put their own safety on the line to rescue these young women from their traffickers, before supporting them, often on a voluntary basis, through a long and difficult process of rehabilitation. After that there needs to be a process of reintegration, which is where we come in.
ITP's Youth Career Initiative, run in partnership with the global hotel industry, is increasingly creating opportunities for re-integrating survivors of trafficking through a unique mix of transferable work skills and life skills. Graduates from the programme, who are some of the most vulnerable of young people, gain confidence, self-belief, and a far greater likelihood of gaining legitimate employment and contributing effectively in mainstream society.
The most vulnerable people, like those described above, of course need particular support, but business also needs to consider the plight of young people generally.
With global youth unemployment stubbornly at 73 million, the need for businesses to tackle this issue, and help to bridge the cavernous divides (physical, cultural, financial and emotional) that can separate the haves from the have-nots in society, has never been greater. In India, as elsewhere, it is not so much a question of too many young people and not enough jobs, but more about a fundamental skills gap that has to be narrowed if the country is to prosper.
And, from a personal point of view, the ability to witness both the uglier extremes of social exclusion and the privilege of 5-star luxury, all in the space of a single working day, was shocking and motivating in equal measure. As the world’s leaders in Davos acknowledged in their debates, inequality and social exclusion pose a growing structural threat not just to those at the bottom of society but to the privileged elite as well. Surely this is a problem we know how to solve, with responsible businesses an essential ingredient of that solution.
The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) is a global programme of Business in the Community. It brings together the world’s leading international hotel companies to provide a voice for environmental and social responsibility in the industry, workng to demonstrate in a very practical way that environmental and social responsibility makes good business sense. It does this by highlighting best practice, offering a range of practical products and programmes and tackling emerging sustainability issues through collaborative working groups.
This article was originally posted on BITC