Protecting your staff – Protecting your business

Hotels and other companies operating in the hospitality sector have a responsibility to safeguard staff and agency workers engaged within their business operations and to treat all workers with dignity and respect.

The UK Modern Slavery Act focuses on reporting as a key way of catalysing and promoting activity by companies to prevent exploitation. In doing so companies not only protect their workforces they also protect themselves from reputational risk, operational inefficiency, being complicit in bribery and corruption or association with criminal activity.

The law is very clear holding someone in slavery or servitude, or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour is a criminal offence. Even if companies are not engaging in these practices themselves, they can be convicted of aiding and abetting, encouraging or assisting, or conspiring to commit the crime if they are subcontracting workers who they know or should have known are being held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Turning a blind eye is not an option

Companies can be found to have met the standard of “known or should have known” that the offence is taking place if they wilfully disregard the indications that the offence is taking place. Turning a blind eye to working conditions of staff and agency workers and the operating practices of agencies is not an option.

Companies should undertake effective due diligence to ensure that their employment and contracting arrangements meet legal requirements – and in doing so, reduce their risk of complicity in a crime and ensure they are providing dignified working conditions for staff and agency workers. See the list of indications below and the SEE Formula for further suggestions on carrying out such due diligence.

Pay particular attention to migrant workers and other potentially vulnerable workers

Migrant workers, who can represent a large portion of employees and staff and agency workers in the hospitality business, may be considered vulnerable victims within the meaning of the offence because they may be vulnerable to coercion or deception about working conditions. Companies should take particular care to scrutinise working conditions and arrangements for migrant workers and other potentially vulnerable workers.

Spotting the signs of exploitation

There are a number of factors which may, depending on the circumstances, indicate that an individual is being held in servitude or subjected to forced or compulsory labour. The essential elements are those of coercion or deception, which may be demonstrated in a number of ways. These might include:

  • Violence or threats of violence by the employer or the employer’s representative;
  • Threats against the worker’s family;
  • Threats to expose the worker to the authorities (e.g. because of the worker’s immigration status or offences they may have committed in the past);
  • The person’s documents, such as a passport or other identification, being withheld by the employer;
  • Restriction of movement;
  • Debt bondage;
  • Withholding of wages.

Other factors that may be indicators of forced labour include:

  • The worker being given false information about the law and their employment rights;
  • Excessive working hours being imposed by the employer;
  • Not being provided with safety equipment and clothing, and/or being charged for the provision of such equipment that is essential to perform the work;
  • Unwarranted and perhaps unexplained deductions from wages;
  • The employer intentionally not paying the full tax or national insurance contributions for the worker;
  • Poor accommodation provided by the employer (e.g. accommodation that is overcrowded, not licensed as a “House of Multiple Occupation” by Local Authorities, or does not have any necessary gas and electricity safety certificates);
  • Intentionally poor or misleading information having been given about the nature of the employment (e.g. about the location or nature of the work);
  • The person being isolated from contact with others;

Ensuring compliance and understanding throughout the company’s operations:

Understanding human rights and ensuring adherence to international standards are vital in protecting businesses from risk and protecting workers.

Other key steps companies should take include:

  • Have a human rights policy statement signed off at the highest level of the company.
  • Educate themselves about human rights risks in their operations.
  • Have clear policies in place that address slavery and human trafficking.
  • Ensure all employees, suppliers and other stakeholders are aware of these policies.
  • Understand and address enhanced risk factors in certain operations or locations.
  • Include responsible labour recruitment in their operations and due diligence processes.
  • Ensure internal key performance indicators reflect and support the company’s human rights policies.
  • Provide sufficient training and support to the right personnel to ensure that corporate policies are carried out effectively.
  • Have in place effective grievance mechanisms and access to remedy for all workers.
  • Safeguard the rights of workers to join trade unions.
  • Engage in appropriate collaborations with other companies to learn and share knowledge and promote best practice.
  • Advocate with governments to deliver appropriate enforcement of labour law thus ensuring a level playing field for responsible business to compete fairly within the law.