Today – 10th December – is Human Rights Day.
It’s a day, created by the UN General Assembly in 1950 – to recognise and remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which all countries around the world should strive for.
In 2013 the theme is to commemorate 20 years of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration which was adopted by the World Conference in December 1993. The Declaration calls for universal human rights and equality, and freedom from persecution for all no matter their race, colour, religion, gender or disability, and to have those freedoms protected by the law.
Those in tourism and hospitality might wonder what this has to do with them, but there is wide scope within business for companies - often unwittingly – to find themselves party to the degradation of human rights. Consider those companies whose clothes were made by the low paid workers in Bangladesh who lost their lives when their factory collapsed this year.
As the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) report into Human Trafficking revealed, the tourism sector is a high risk industry for human trafficking, and it is incumbent on all businesses to be rigorous in checking the source of their labour, and the source of their products. Hotels also need to meticulous in monitoring the use of rooms.
In the UK the government has produced an action plan for businesses in terms of their responsibility to respect human rights, and the government’s expectations on them to do so.
Many companies have already made the link between their business activity and respect for human rights; many already have human rights policies woven into their objectives and operations. Other companies, which consider human rights unfamiliar territory, are already addressing some issues linked to human rights within their operations but calling them by different names, such as labour standards, health and safety, or non-discrimination.
The United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) guide the approach UK companies should take to respect human rights wherever they operate. The key principles of this approach are to:
- comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognised human rights, wherever they operate;
- seek ways to honour the principles of internationally recognised human rights when faced with conflicting requirements;
- treat as a legal compliance issue the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses wherever they operate;
- adopt appropriate due diligence policies to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks, and commit to monitoring and evaluating implementation;
- consult people who may potentially be affected at all stages of project design and implementation, in a manner that ensures free and informed participation and takes into account language and other potential barriers to effective engagement, paying particular attention to indigenous peoples and other groups, including women and girls;
- emphasise the importance of behaviour in line with the UNGPs to their supply chains in the UK and overseas. Appropriate measures could include contractual arrangements, training, monitoring and capacity-building;
- adopt or participate in effective grievance mechanisms which are transparent, equitable and predictable, to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute;
- be transparent about policies, activities and impacts, and report on human rights issues and risks as appropriate as part of their annual reports.
In particular, the Institute for Human Rights and Business has framed the issue for hotels. Neill Wilkins, Programme Support Manager: Migration, specified:
A key area where hotels can have an impact on human rights is within their workforce whether employed directly or working as agency staff. Hotels should be aware of the issues surrounding the recruitment and employment conditions of these staff. They should have clear processes in place to identify and mitigate risk. Contracts with agencies and suppliers should be assessed in ways beyond simple cost. Clear policies and processes aligned with the UN Guiding Principles can help overcome difficulties and empower managers, supervisors and other staff to ensure that all workers are treated with respect.
For smaller hotel chains or independents the risk can sound frightening and the problem insurmountable, but several larger chains have publicly available human rights documents which can quickly set you on the right track; for example Starwood , IHG, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott.
Jetwing Hotels in Sri Lanka is a small chain of 16 properties which was praised at the Human Rights session at World Travel Market 2013 for their proactive stance on human rights. They told Green Hotelier how they take action:
- While associates are structured in a hierarchy, all are considered equal and valuable.
- An open-door policy exists where associates can speak up on issues faced.
- Associates are encouraged to implement ideas and suggestions on process improvement.
- Training programmes exist to develop associate skills, such as free lessons in the English language.
- Our properties are located in varying sites, some rural and others commercial. The hotels are placed with the purpose of uplifting local communities.
- Associates regularly conduct programmes to benefit the lives of nearby citizens, such as cleaning campaigns for Elders’ Homes; the sponsoring of cataract surgeries for underprivileged persons in Negombo as an example.
- Schoolchildren have been identified as the influencers of change, and resident naturalists at Jetwing properties organise educational programmes and activities with the help of school authorities.
- The PATA Grand Award winning Jetwing Youth Development Project seeks to enhance the lives of rural youth by providing them opportunities in the field of hospitality. JYDP conducts an extensive training programme with firsthand job training along with lessons in English, etiquette, and hotel operations completely free for the participants.
Jetwing demonstrates that preserving human rights doesn’t begin and end with their staff, but expands out into the neighbourhood where they operate. However a necessary first step is to ensure the correct policies and procedures are in place to protect employees.