December 11, 2006
Marriott Combats Child Sexual Exploitation
by Bill Baue
Shareowner engagement by Boston Common Asset Management and the First Swedish National Pension Fund
prompts Marriott to explicitly address child sex tourism in its human rights policy.
In 1999, Costa Rican courts sentenced a man to eight years in prison for aggravated pimping of
minors in a child sex tourism (CST) network that included receptionists at the San José Marriott
according to a shareowner resolution
filed late last year with the company. The filers--a cross-Atlantic coalition of Boston Common Asset Management and the
National Pension Fund (Första AP-fonden)--withdrew the resolution early this year when Marriott
agreed to dialogue.
"Companies do not want to see a resolution on their ballot that
raises the issue of child sexual exploitation because it is such an egregious violation of
children's human rights," said David Schilling, program director on human rights at the Interfaith
Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). ICCR,
a coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors and socially responsible investing (SRI)
firms that conduct shareowner activism with companies, is coordinating a broader campaign with
travel and tourism companies on the issue.
Last week, the filers announced the results of their
engagement--Marriott revised its Human Rights Policy to explicitly
address the sexual exploitation of children.
"It's fantastic that Marriott is making a
commitment to address the sexual exploitation of children--trafficking in children has become a
globalized industry," said David Batstone, author of Not For Sale: The Return of the
Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It (HarperSF, February
2007). "Kids get moved across country borders so they can be more easily controlled, and sexual
predators are traveling long distances to take advantage of defenseless children."
reason I am enthused about this corporate commitment is that most major hotel chains have dragged
their feet to make a public stand against sex trafficking--it's almost as if they are afraid to
draw too much attention to the crisis, and thereby be identified as a site of exploitation," Mr.
Batstone told SocialFunds.com. "Their silence, however, is damning, as we will never offer serious
resistance to sex trafficking if the tourist industry does not get involved in a major way--it's
that simple, and urgent."
The Swedish fund had been trying to engage Marriott on CST
since 2002 with no response.
"Once the resolution was filed, Marriott was extremely
responsive--by the time we met with them in March, they had formed a Human Rights Task Force of
nine high-ranking executives and done a great deal of work internally," said Lauren Compere, Boston
Common's director of shareholder advocacy. Boston Common answered the Swedish fund's call for a
partner versed in US shareowner engagement approaches after hitting a brick wall with Marriott.
"The pension funds in Europe have a conventions-based approach--they generally look at potential
violators of international codes and norms, and Marriott fit the bill because of the Costa Rica
Carlson Hotels and Accor Hotels
demonstrate industry best practice by adopting the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children
from Sexual Exploitation in Travel & Tourism (or "the Code.") The Code contains six elements, including
establishing an ethical policy on CST, training personnel, requiring suppliers to repudiate CST,
providing travelers information warning against CST, and reporting annually on code implementation.
"Marriott is a core holding for us, and we know the company has never adopted a 'off the
shelf' code of conduct," Ms. Compere told SocialFunds.com. "Implementing the Code was our first
ask, but we came to realize the company was going to make the policy their own, so we pushed as
hard as possible to make sure they incorporated elements of the Code into their policy."
At the first meeting, Ms. Compere also asked what Marriott was doing on the ground to combat
CST, and the task force members did not know.
"One of the first things the task force did
was send out an inquiry to their global operations seeking active models and initiatives to base
their response on," said Ms. Compere.
As a result, Marriott partnered with nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) combating CST both locally and globally--a strength of Marriott's policy,
according to Rev. Schilling of ICCR.
Other strengths include educational elements,
according to Mr. Batstone. For example, Marriott is now training employees to recognize warning
signs of potential CST activity. Marriott is also now including a brochure on CST developed
by the United Nations World Tourism
Organization in the 20 million pre-arrival messages it sends guests globally every year.
"Its weakness, on the other hand, is that it does not set up clear channels for monitoring and
reporting trafficking abuses," said Mr. Batstone. "It could go a step further to offer
training in the protocol for reporting sex trafficking first to the public justice
"Taken in isolation, corporate policies like the one that Marriott has developed
in partnership with NGOs will not deliver the total solution to child slavery, but each advance in
policy and public awareness builds an environment wherein kidnapping children from their homes and
forcing them to heinous acts will not be tolerated," he added.
ICCR has launched a
campaign to address CST by sending letters to a number of tourist industry companies.
"In June, at our annual shareholder meeting, there was a real outpouring of interest for
advocacy work on the commercial sexual exploitation of children," Rev. Schilling told
SocialFunds.com. "We learned through our engagement with Marriott that we could have a real impact
and a quick turnaround on this issue, and we anticipate that being the case with other travel
"We want to address this in a systematic way giving companies--whether it's
hotels such as Hilton or Starwood or cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean or
Carnival--opportunities to respond,"
said Rev. Schilling. "If there's no response or if the response is insufficient, then we would
move forward with a shareholder resolution."