Talking Point: Sustainability in destinations – Brazil

YCI 2013 graduates in Rio de Janeiro

YCI 2013 graduates in Rio de Janeiro

We conclude our Brazil series with a look to the future and how hotels can help destinations be more sustainable through community action.

With the World Cup 2014 taking place in June, the world’s eyes were firmly focused on Brazil. Keenly aware that the influx of eager football fans, as well as hundreds of television cameras cast a bright spotlight on the host country, the government invested millions in preparing Brazil to become a tourism destination for the 21st century.

This investment was not always welcomed by the Brazilian people who, having struggled with the global recession, were concerned about the direction of funding which they felt might have been better spent in aide of social programmes.

Meanwhile, the press highlighted concerns about human trafficking and the dangers to underage sex workers. Green Hotelier ran two features examining some of the hidden issues behind the headlines.

But there are many organisations in Brazil which are working to improve opportunities within the hospitality industry – particularly for young people – and other companies which are fighting to improve the long term sustainability of the industry to help make the country a safe and welcoming destination for the future.

For hotels, the idea that Brazil could be drawing increasing numbers of tourists with Olympics 2016 and as Latin America continues to attract attention as an up-and-coming destination, is an appealing prospect. But concerns have been raised over the prevalence of underage sex workers and hotels which turn a blind eye, as well as overt human trafficking, luring young people with the prospect of work but then trapping them far from home in situations which they’re unable to escape.

One organisation that’s working to address this is the charity Childhood Brasil. The charity works in partnership with organisations of public, private and civil society. In a campaign during the run-up to the World Cup - #BrazilDefendingChildhood - Childhood Brasil engaged different strategic companies to present the campaign to their employees and clients. These included key tourism industry companies including TAM airlines, EY, LAN Chile, Atlantica International Hotels and GRU Airport. They also generated and disseminated information on major sporting events and childhood.

Executive Director, Ana Maria Drummond talked to us about how the charity had prepared for Brazil 2014, and the work they do to help protect young people.

“A lot has happened in Brazil this year. In the public sphere there were many demonstrations and questions about the government’s investments in the World Cup and its promises for economic growth, but on our side, we have been concentrating our efforts to help prevent and fight child rights violations before, during and after the World Cup.

“Sexual exploitation is a serious problem in Brazil. Despite the difficulties in obtaining precise data on the extent and locality of this phenomenon, we know from experience that it is happening nationwide, and we have identified a number of variables that increase the risk factors.

“Major events will not necessarily cause sexual exploitation, but they can combine risk factors that may increase the problem. Among the risks factors, research from Brunel University points to the following:

  • Accelerated construction timetables with large numbers of men separated from their families and turning to commercial – and underage – sex.
  • Displacement of children from their established homes to temporary and/or unfamiliar locations.
  • Child coercion into illegal activities such as drug dealing, theft, sectarian or ethnic violence; especially if they stay in the area after the event.
  • Extension of school holidays without supervision or without holiday programmes for children.
  • Elevated levels of sexual and physical abuse due to increased partying activity.
  • Negative effects on children’s mental and physical health caused by contagious diseases if they are abused and/or forced to consume drugs.

“To fight this problem Childhood Brasil has strengthened government efforts through the Human Rights Secretariat that is leading a cross-sector group named ‘Convergence Agenda’. This group involves civil society, international bodies, the Federal Government, State and City Governments and private companies. It involved, in each host city, the creation of Child Protection Local Committees to co-ordinate and implement action plans.

“We were determined that the local infrastructure should be developed in host cities via investments from public authorities and therefore leave a solid legacy for our children.”

Although small, independent hotels are often ignoring some of the issues taking place in their neighbourhoods and rooms, large chain hotels like IHG and Marriott put in place specific staff training before major events to educate staff on what to look out for in order to prevent any issues occurring.

Mari Snyder, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility for Marriott said, “We’ve been working on the struggle to end trafficking and exploitation since 2006. One of the key policies in Marriott’s Principles of Responsible Business is human rights. Our training focuses on educating our associates on the issue - the signs indicating if someone in our hotel is potentially a victim of trafficking - and directs our associates to immediately tell a supervisor who will take the appropriate actions, including notifying the proper authorities. The guiding principle is “see something, say something.” We want our associates to consider what they learned, trust their instincts, and advise a supervisor or safety and security officer on staff. This training is incorporated in our orientation of associates.”

Both Marriott and IHG are members of the International Tourism Partnership which works with its members to offer guidance on Human Trafficking including the popular Know How Guide.

Ana Maria Drummond says, “Our advice to any business is that no children’s rights should be violated as a consequence of their value chain. Different economic sectors have impacts on children’s rights and this should be not overlooked. Transport, big constructions, technology, tourism, among others have a responsibility.

“When we look specifically at the tourism sector and to the role of hotels, they should train their staff to know how to identify and report any suspicious case. Moreover they should act in accordance to specific national law on children rights. In Brazil, for example, no children should check in to any hotel without identification and a legally responsible person.

“We have a strong partnership with Atlantica Hotels since 2005 that ensures the establishment of a code of conduct in every hotel of the chain in Brazil, including on-going staff training on the issue of children and adolescents’ protection against sexual exploitation. They ensure constant communication to the guests about the cause, and more than US$1.7 million has been raised for Childhood Brasil. These efforts were recognized in 2012 by the Department of Human Rights from the Presidency of Brazil with the Neide Castanha Award – a prize offered by the National Committee to Combat Sexual Violence against Children and Teens to Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Atlantica Hotels is the only hotel business recognised so far.”

Looking to the future, ITP has another programme – the Youth Career Initiative – which works in a number of countries around the world, including Brazil, to identify vulnerable and disadvantaged young people who might be at risk of exploitation and offer them an opportunity for training and employment.

YCI works with hotels to offer six months training, mentorship and real life work experience in a safe setting within a range of departments throughout the hotel. With a success rate of 85%, the majority of graduates return to education or gain onward employment either within the hospitality industry or elsewhere. The positive impacts frequently traverse generations of family members.

One graduate of YCI Brazil – Keila – successfully completed the YCI programme in 2010 and is now employed by Hyatt in Brazil. She described the impact YCI had made for her.

“If I had not participated in YCI, I might have tried to find a vacancy as an apprentice in a business, or get a job to pay for college or a course to be able to help my family, but I would not have had many options because I did not have very good qualifications.

“Of the people I went to school with, many found jobs but not often in the local area. Some have finished college, others took some courses but are not doing anything now; many do not have much life perspective or self-development opportunities. Some of them have already built a family.

“The hospitality industry is large and currently offers opportunities for young people looking for growth and development. In our country it is very important. Besides generating opportunities in large companies, it drives the economy and increases life expectancy.

“YCI celebrates its 10th anniversary in Brazil this year. The priorities and circumstances for young people have changed over that time. YCI created opportunities for many young people, developing and seeking better opportunities, growing personally and professionally, and achieving their goals and dreams. It’s brought changes for many young people who have already made college, or helped their family, some have had an international experience changing his or her life story forever.

“The World Cup turned the world's eyes to Brazil; a major event in our country that unites the entire world into a passion for football that everyone has in common. I saw it as a great event with many opportunities and increased employability for young people, and good for the economy. We need the hotel and tourism industry to generate many opportunities for young people going forward.”

Keila’s story shows that with organisations working for young people and a vibrant tourism industry, the future for Brazil could be very bright.

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