Fighting Modern Slavery in the Tourism Sector

Cindy Kroon traveller & blogger writes about human trafficking and offers practical advice on how we can all work to prevent it! 

It is estimated that 27 million people are victims of modern slavery in over 160 countries and that 13,000 workers are subject to modern slavery in the UK. More people are enslaved now than compared to the height of the transatlantic slave trade. Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion industry worldwide.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery, sometimes called forced labour or human trafficking, is where victims are controlled, forced, coerced or deceived and exploited for a profit by another person. Traffickers restrict victims in their movement, unlawfully withhold their wages and/or passport, and/or use threats or violence in order for the victims to perform work. Sometimes victims are forced to work to pay off an excessive amount of debt whilst being paid little to no wages.

There isn’t a typical profile of a trafficker, or of a victim: they can be male/female, young/old, known/unknown to each other, and they can come from any socio-economic background or continent.

Shandra Woworuntu, a highly educated Indonesian national, flew to the US after obtaining a job in a hotel in Chicago. When she arrived at JFK airport in New York, the recruiter took away her passport and forced Shandra into prostitution in several hotels, casinos and apartments along the East Coast in order to pay off a $30,000 artificial debt. Source: BBC

Is there modern slavery in the tourism sector?

The tourism sector is considered to be high risk for modern slavery practices. Examples of where modern slavery occurs in the tourism sector include:

  • Exploitation occurring in sex tourism, especially where children are involved.
  • Forced labour in the construction of hotels, cruise ships, airports, facilities for mega-events like the Olympics, etc. Forced labour can also occur in the maintenance and servicing of facilities with the employment of cleaning, transportation and restaurant staff.

Abul Azad was lured from Bangladesh to the UK under the promise of a job as a chef in a restaurant in London. But when he arrived at Heathrow airport, he was told to travel to a remote area in Scotland. There he was forced to work 20 hours a day in a busy hotel, while he paid off an ever-increasing debt to his employer. He was told the money was required to finance his visa and was threatened with deportation if he didn’t pay.  He borrowed thousands of pounds and sold his land, his business and his wife’s jewellery to raise funds. His employer never paid Abul, or the rest of the Bangladeshi hotel staff, more than £100 per month, and subjected them to physical and psychological abuse. Source: The Guardian

  • Forced labour in the supply chain of hotels, cruise ships, airports, and other tourism facilities. This can include the manufacturing of products such as bedding, furniture and food and beverages, which is often supplied to tourism facilities by third parties.

See also Tourism Concern’s recent campaign on abuses in the cruise industry, where staff can be made to work without contracts, well below minimum wage and for excessive periods of little time off.

  • Traffickers using tourism infrastructure to traffic victims. This can include the use of airlines, hotels, transportation and technology.

Mary, a minor from Canada, met a young man called Jamie on Facebook. After a period of exchanging messages online, Mary took a train to Montreal to meet Jamie in person. On arriving she was beaten and forced to have sex with a stranger. He destroyed her birth certificate and threatened to hurt her family if she did not obey him. Jamie booked hotel rooms in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, where Mary was forced into prostitution with clients Jamie found online. Source: Windsor Star

What is the UK Modern Slavery Act?

The Modern Slavery Act requires all UK businesses (and those headquartered or registered outside the UK, but who conduct business in the UK) with a turnover of over £36 million to annually publish a statement on their website. This statement is to detail what they are doing to tackle modern slavery in their organisation, including in their supply chain. The first statements will be published in October 2016 to cover the 2015/2016 financial year. Similar legislation already exists in France, Switzerland and the United States.

What are tourism companies doing against modern slavery?

Over the past 25 years, there have been various initiatives working to address modern slavery in the tourism sector. There are various codes of conducts companies in the tourism sector can sign up to, for example, The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism and the UNWTO Code of Ethics. In addition to these companies can also develop their own Codes of Conduct.

Most Codes of Conduct or policies commit to the following:

  • Establishing a policy and procedures, such as including clauses in contracts stating zero tolerance of human trafficking and modern slavery.
  • Training employees on human rights legislation and how to report suspected cases of slavery and trafficking. As a result of these efforts, there have been examples of flight attendants and hotel staff who reported suspicious activity which resulted in a victim being saved.
  • Providing relevant information to travellers on how to recognise and report human trafficking and modern slavery. These awareness-raising initiatives have included messages in hotels, in aeroplanes, or on boarding passes, containing warnings about the illegality of trafficking and sex tourism and hotline numbers to call in the case of any suspicious behaviour. Anonymous tip-offs to these lines have saved many, including children, from a life of slavery in the sex industry.

As a tourist, what can I do to help eliminate modern slavery?

You can find out what steps the hotel, airline, tour operator, travel agency, airport, etc. you plan on using is doing in the fight against modern slavery, simply by reading its anti-modern slavery statement on the company’s website.

Depending on your assessment you can then choose whether to use these services. This way, companies that take anti-modern slavery actions seriously will be rewarded, and those that do not will see their business decrease.

If you see anything suspicious on your travels, and you have good reasons to think that someone is being trafficked or performing work against their will, the best thing to do is to report it to the authorities. Do not put yourself and others in danger by confronting the alleged trafficker or trying to save or assist the alleged victim. Rather, call the authorities and let experts deal with the situation.

Many countries have special human trafficking hotlines, a list of which you can find here.

See also Tourism Concern’s article on a checklist of resorts in the Maldives. This article aims to help tourists avoid island resorts that are linked to human rights abuses.

Author Cindy Kroon @

Photo by Ira Gelb

About the author

Helen Jennings

Helen has studied at the Universities of Goldsmiths, Kent, Jyvaskyla (Finland) and The Arctic University of Norway (Tromsø) where she obtained a MA in Indigenous Studies. She has travelled extensively and has lived and worked in Canada, Scandinavia, and South America. Helen is particularly interested in cultural, indigenous, and spiritual tourism, ideas behind sensible ‘regulation’ and is convinced of the value of ethical and sustainable tourism.

Leave a Reply

Recently Online

Joined 2 months ago
Last active 8 hours ago
Joined 3 years ago
Last active 9 hours ago
Joined 2 years ago
Last active 9 hours ago
London, United Kingdom
Joined 3 years ago
Last active 9 hours ago
Joined 2 years ago
Last active 9 hours ago