Employees of Starwood Hotels and Resorts are becoming trained to recognise possible instances of sexual slavery happening on their premises.
Speaking as part of a panel on the procurement and supply profession’s role in tackling slavery, Angela Tomlinson, regional director of supply chain for Starwood, said one area in which her business is at the forefront of addressing slavery is prostitution.
“We want our staff to be aware of it; that should they ever see anyone in the lobby who looks uncomfortable or if there are people coming and going from a room – that they tell us there could be an issue.”
She said far from employees being worried they would get into trouble for flagging concerns, they were encouraged to raise any potential issues so the group could help vulnerable individuals, as well as protect its reputation as a business.
Starwood counts Sheraton, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton among its many brands. A number of large companies in the hotel industry are taking a similar approach to address the scourge of modern slavery.
Tomlinson was on the panel chaired by Unseen CEO Andrew Wallis and joined by Communisis procurement director Richard Denney.
Denney said Communisis, which provides customer communication services, said: “For our clients to trust us, we have to be doing something on this issue. The Modern Slavery Act was another call to arms to demonstrate what we do in that regard.”
He said his business had also carried out training and developed a toolkit to help deal with the issue. “It’s a huge area, it’s not a tick box exercise.” Denney said that while his business had not yet uncovered any evidence of slavery it was nowhere near being able to claim it was slave-free. “Even in two, three, four years’ time I don’t expect we’ll be able to make that claim, but we will be able to say we’ve taken strong steps to drive it out and educate our supply chain.”
Wallis, whose work paved the way for the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and earned him an OBE, said the new law required organisations with a turnover exceeding £36m, and which supply goods and services in the UK, to produce a transparency in the supply chain statement. “It asks you to issue a statement on your website describing all the things you’ve done to tackle slavery in your supply chains and it has to be signed off at board level. To be compliant in this first year, you could just say you’ve done “sod all and don’t care” but I wouldn’t recommend it. Each year you will be expected to report improvements.”
He advised the audience to start from the perspective that they’ve probably got a problem, get over it, then move on to what they’re going to do to about it.
Tomlinson told delegates: “You worry about where to start, but you have to take it piece by piece. It’s about best endeavours. Embrace it, relax, start somewhere. There’s a lot of good literature out there. Come up with a plan, select someone to own and drive it forward and get people to support that. That’s where you start.”
“Don’t be afraid of it,” added Denney. “It’s not a stick to be beaten with. What the legislation requires us to do is show we’re taking it seriously and taking positive steps every year to move it forward. If you aim to resolve everything in one year it will be too big to do.”
And beyond embracing tackling the scourge, panellists urged the audience to share their findings. “Embrace transparency,” said Wallis. “Don’t just put a statement on your own website. Share it on our central repository so that in time the public and businesses will be able to identify where the hotpots are and how to prioritise.”
Asked if they would dump suppliers found to have slaves working for them or in their own chains, Denney and Tomlinson advised people to work with them.
“The temptation is to run a mile and cast the supplier adrift,” said Denney, “but that just means a worse problem for those affected, and it would only work if everyone in the world also stopped using them. You need an industry-wide approach to tackling the problem and you need to work with suppliers - educate them and create a culture of improvement.”
He added that businesses should own up if they discover something: “The risk of being found to be dishonest is worse,” he warned.
Tomlinson added: “It’s about being responsible and doing the right thing: Is what the supplier is doing affecting health and safety or dangerous? You need to work with them and give them a time period to improve. In the case of child labour, a child could be working to provide for their grandparents, for example, and ceasing to use them could stop them from eating. We need a process, don’t just cut off their money.”
She encourages suppliers to share vital, non-commercially sensitive, information that could help shine a light on the issue.
Issuing a final warning to the audience, Wallis challenged: “Who is the workforce of the future? It’s my kids and yours. You should be afraid of generation z because they are the world’s first global citizens. They are connected and they care passionately about the environment and issues like slavery. If you don’t have an answer for them as to what you’re doing about this, however scary that may be, they won’t want to work for you. And if you can’t attract the brightest and best, your business will be toast.”