Human Trafficking & Slavery in Hotels: Victims Feel Safe at Hilton

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Operation Underground Railroad is leading the fight against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation with three bold strategies that make up a Global Rescue and Recovery solution.

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Human trafficking has gained notoriety for frequently occurring at hotels. The reasons behind this association are the convenience hotels and motels offer to sex trafficking buyers, the ability to transact in cash and keep financial transactions discreet, and the limited need for facility maintenance or upkeep expenses. Sex trafficking may occur when victims are compelled to provide commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion. 

Victims are most frequently advertised for commercial sex through online advertising, escort services, or word of mouth. Hotels and motels are then used as locations for commercial sex to take place, often unbeknownst to hotel management.

This has increased lawsuits against well-known hotel companies, including Red Roof, Motel 6, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Choice Hotels International. In the lawsuits, hotels are often alleged to have been involved with the trafficking that took place inside their walls or to have knowingly disregarded it despite warning signs. 

The hospitality industry is highly vulnerable to human traffickers, especially when it comes to child sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, forced criminality, domestic servitude, and forced labor in hotels or their supply chains.

Research estimates that there are 1.14 million victims in the European hospitality industry. This is 80% for sexual exploitation and 20% for forced labor in restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Why are hotels vulnerable to human trafficking?

Their revenue streams and operations are increasingly automated. Hotels often use automatic check-in and check-out options, work with third-party reservation systems, and don’t require registration and identification.

Guest privacy and anonymity prevent hoteliers and staff members from knowing their customers’ identities or what they do behind closed doors.

Employment practices and corporate culture also facilitate human trafficking, including priority of meeting customers’ requests that exceed ethical boundaries, lack of background checks on new employees, lack of awareness of employees and lack of training to spot signs, fear of retribution by staff if they report suspected incidents, and lack of straightforward measures to address human trafficking. 

“Potential victims of labor trafficking can work as front-of-house staff, food service workers, and most frequently, in housekeeping.” (Polaris Project

How Hotels Become Legally Involved in Human Trafficking

Hotels are legally responsible for maintaining safe premises and taking the proper precautions to keep guests safe, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). 

Common reasons why hotels face legal action when it comes to human trafficking: 

  • Failure to intervene after noticing signs of trafficking 
  • Allowing the crime to occur in exchange for financial gain 
  • Participation from employees in the trafficking taking place 

High-Profile Human Trafficking Cases Impacting the Hotel Industry

In the United States alone, numerous human trafficking lawsuits were filed against hotels in 2023, and some cases were resolved. 

  • Red Roof Inn settled with four women who filed a sex trafficking lawsuit against the hotel chain (December 2023) 
  • Four human trafficking survivors in Texas filed federal lawsuits against Studio 6 and Motel 6 (July 2023) 
  • 40+ human trafficking lawsuits were filed against hotel companies, including Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Choice Hotels International (April 2023) 
  • Philadelphia hotel owner was required to pay eight survivors $24 million after court ruling (February 2023) 

The Impact of Human Trafficking Lawsuits on Survivors

For survivors, pursuing legal justice has a much greater purpose than financial compensation. Not only can it provide the opportunity for needed closure and new beginnings, but it also forces hotels at fault and their parent companies to make changes for the better. In doing so, others in danger will be better protected. 

Lawsuits also empower survivors.

Policy and Training Reforms in Hospitality

In light of the lawsuits and public backlash, many hotel companies have made changes to eliminate human trafficking. At the forefront of this reform is increased training for staff members and new or revised processes for reporting trafficking concerns. Both domestically and internationally, hotel companies decide on policy and training updates as they see fit. 

Included in their No Room for Trafficking campaign, The American Hotel & Lodging Association has developed a five-step action plan for its members: 

  1. Training staff on what to look for and how to respond 
  2. Displaying human trafficking indicator signage 
  3. Establishing a companywide policy 
  4. Ongoing coordination with law enforcement 
  5. Sharing success stories and best practices 

Hilton, an international hotel brand, has established Travel with Purpose Goals to achieve by 2030. “We have set ambitious goals aimed at mitigating modern slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking risks in our operations.”

Hilton Stands Out in the Fight against Human Trafficking

A statement released by Hilton Hotels and Resorts reads:

“At Hilton, we share the purpose of being the most hospitable company in the world by positively impacting our guests, Team Members, hotel owners, and communities. As a business of people serving people, respecting human rights is a core part of our mission. Hilton is committed to implementing human rights due diligence across our global operations and working with suppliers to eradicate forced labor or human trafficking across our value chain.

“Hilton has also created and partnered with cross-industry networks to advance international human rights as part of our 2030 Travel with Purpose Goals.

Hilton is a proud signatory of the United Nations Global Compact, and the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights inform our human rights strategy.

“Awareness is essential to combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation. With more than 49 million people currently subjected to modern slavery worldwide, the issue is too significant to ignore. “

How Hotels Can Safeguard Against Human Trafficking

To combat trafficking outside of initiatives, hotels should provide proper training to every staff member on the signs of human trafficking and educate them on how to take action if it is suspected. A valuable resource is the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Trafficking Response Guide for the Hospitality Industry. This 10-page document details the signs of trafficking that hotel staff members can look for depending on their specific roles. 

There are additional steps each hotel company can take to ensure the safety of all guests: 

  1. Verify the identity of each guest who checks in 
  2. Monitor rooms with frequent visitors who are not staying at the hotel. 
  3. Work with local law enforcement & advocate organizations to stay informed on current and potential dangers 

The Future of Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts in Hotels

With the recent lawsuits several well-known hotel companies worldwide have faced, positive and needed changes are being made. This improvement in accountability, introspection, and reform is significant in the fight to end human trafficking. However, more needs to be done. 

What impact do human trafficking lawsuits

Lawsuits offer survivors closure and force hotels to make positive changes. Many hotels are implementing reforms, including increased staff training, policy establishment, and collaboration with law enforcement to combat human trafficking.

Support O.U.R. Operation Underground Railroad

Founded in 2013, O.U.R.’s work spans the globe and includes assisting law enforcement with intelligence gathering, capacity building, specialized tools, training, and personnel resources to law enforcement agencies. O.U.R. likewise supports aftercare for survivors similarly with a combination of boots on the ground, contributing training and resources to local facilities.

For more information, go to https://ourrescue.org/

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS ARTICLE:

  • The reasons behind this association are the convenience hotels and motels offer to sex trafficking buyers, the ability to transact in cash and keep financial transactions discreet, and the limited need for facility maintenance or upkeep expenses.
  • Employment practices and corporate culture also facilitate human trafficking, including priority of meeting customers' requests that exceed ethical boundaries, lack of background checks on new employees, lack of awareness of employees and lack of training to spot signs, fear of retribution by staff if they report suspected incidents, and lack of straightforward measures to address human trafficking.
  • The hospitality industry is highly vulnerable to human traffickers, especially when it comes to child sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, forced criminality, domestic servitude, and forced labor in hotels or their supply chains.

About the author

Avatar of Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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