London, UK
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Major hotels in Britain are failing to protect workers from debt bondage and sexual exploitation, according to a study on Wednesday that found 75 per cent of hospitality businesses were flouting anti-slavery legislation.

Britain's world-first 2015 Modern Slavery Act requires companies whose turnover exceeds £36 million to produce an annual statement outlining the actions they have taken to identify and root out slavery from their operations.

Yet more than two-thirds of large hotel companies have not disclosed any information about the risk of slavery in their supply chains, the human rights group Walk Free said, based on a sample selection of 71 major hospitality firms.

Modern slavery poses a triple threat to the hospitality industry, insiders say, from people sex trafficked in hotel rooms to goods made via global supply chains that are tainted by forced labour and sub-contracted workers at risk of abuse.

Big brands across sectors are facing growing pressure from regulators and consumers alike to ensure that their global operations and products are not tainted by labour exploitation.

Britain's anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton said the hotel industry's compliance with the law was "disappointing".

"Compliance with...the Act remains a significant issue and the quality of statements varies enormously," she said.

"This is true of the hotel sector, where complex supply chains and seasonal labour present additional challenges, potentially increasing the risk of modern slavery taking place."

The hospitality sector employs at least 3.2 million people in a country estimated by Walk Free to be home to 136,000 slaves - a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013.

Less than one in ten of the 71 companies prohibited workers being charged recruitment fees that can lead to debt bondage, while only 14 per cent reported specific policies to prevent the sexual exploitation of their staff, the research found.

"It comes down to two things: a lack of commitment by hotels to do the right thing, and a failure of the government to hold companies to account," said Jenn Morris, the head of Walk Free.

Leading trade association UK Hospitality said it was working with police and anti-slavery groups to help staff recognise and respond to signs of a problem.

"While this report shows there is more to do, our members are committed to protecting the safety and wellbeing of all employees," said chief executive Kate Nicholls in an email.

The Home Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Britain should give its anti-slavery legislation more bite and punish firms that fail to comply, three politicians said earlier this year in a government-ordered review.

About 78 per cent of 16,691 companies across sectors required to comply with the law have issued statements to date, according to Transparency in the Supply Chain - a public database.

"Hospitality has long been recognised as a high-risk industry for modern slavery and this...shows it hasn't stepped up," Chloe Cranston, business and human rights manager at Anti-Slavery International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We need to improve the Modern Slavery Act and give it some teeth to make companies legally responsible for addressing for potential abuses in their supply chains."