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May 14, 2010
Investors Ask Hotel Chains to Help Combat Sex Tourism During 2010 World Cup in South Africa
    by Robert Kropp

A letter from Christian Brothers Investment Services to hotels, asking them to help prevent the sexual exploitation of children and other human trafficking crimes, gains 300 signatories and the support of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.


Human trafficking of women and children for the purposes of sex tourism has been described by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a faith-based shareowner advocacy organization, as “globalization's darkest secret.” An estimated 12 million people are victims of human trafficking, which includes forced labor as well as sexual exploitation.

According to the
United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), “Most women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation suffer extreme violations of their human rights, including the right to liberty, the right to dignity and security of person, the right not to be held in slavery or involuntary servitude, the right to be free from cruel and inhumane treatment, the right to be free from violence, and the right to health.”

Cooperation among all sectors of society, including business, is necessary in order to eradicate the activity of human trafficking for sexual purposes. However, as Lauren Compere, the Director of Shareholder Advocacy at
Boston Common Asset Management, told SocialFunds.com in April 2009, “For years, companies have pushed back against activist shareholders and said that matters of human rights are really government issues.”

An ongoing initiative to pressure the global tourism industry to address human trafficking for sexual purposes is
The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (the Code), which was developed by ECPAT, a global network seeking to eliminate child prostitution, child pornography, and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Signatories to The Code agree to develop policies against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, train employees to recognize and address instances of sex tourism, engage with suppliers to repudiate the practice, and educate travelers.

Industry response to The Code, which originated in Sweden in 1998, has been mixed, and the most conspicuous laggards in addressing the issue have been US-based corporations. According to Julie Tanner, the Assistant Director of socially responsible investing (SRI) at
Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), a Catholic SRI investment advisor with $3.6 billion in assets under management for over 1,000 Catholic institutions worldwide, “There are 900 corporate signatories to the Code, and only three are in the US.”

The most recent effort, by ICCR members and other social investors, to combat human trafficking for sexual purposes has focused on the upcoming FIFA World Cup, which will be held in South Africa in June and July. Asserting that “the presence of millions of tourists and spectators attending World Cup events is expected to greatly magnify the problem in the region,” CBIS sent a letter to CEOs and owners of hotel chains in South Africa, encouraging them to take action to “prevent the sexual exploitation of children and other human trafficking crimes.”

The letter stated, “An exploitation-free World Cup will require action from all members of the international community.” It recommended that hotels in South Africa train employees on the issue, engage with police and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and provide information to guests regarding national laws and penalties.

Tanner of CBIS told SocialFunds.com, “The letter we sent highlights a lot of things that need to be done. We sent the letter, with 300 signatories, at the end of April.”

“The response has been underwhelming,” Tanner continued. “Some of the hotel chains we haven’t heard back from include Best Western, Hyatt, Hilton, and Starwood. One letter we did receive wasn’t substantive or robust.”

The letter to Hilton was sent by Bill Somplatsky-Jarman of the Presbyterian Church, which is an ICCR member.

“But we did get a great letter from Accor,” Tanner said. “Accor signed the Code in South Africa in 2007, and in its letter mentioned specific things happening in South Africa.”

The only other positive response to the letter from CBIS was from Carlson, which, Tanner said, “Is the only US hotel among the signatories to The Code. Carlson is one of the few hotels that go into detail on their websites about what they are doing to address sex tourism. It’s part of every new employee’s training, and Carlson has even made its employee training materials publicly available.”

“Carlson has also indicated that it is engaging with its business partners in South Africa” on the issue, Tanner continued.

With the start of the World Cup still almost a month away, Tanner and the letter’s 300 signatories plan to continue to ramp up the pressure on hotels in South Africa. The
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, a resource for news and reports about companies’ human rights impacts worldwide, has published the CBIS letter on its website, and, Tanner said, “Plans to add another level of accountability by contacting those hotels that we haven’t heard from and ask for a response.”

“I’m going to follow up with phone calls to the hotels that haven’t responded,” she continued.

The CBIS campaign addressing hotels in South Africa was developed along with another, initiated by the
Catholic Health East, which focused on corporate sponsors of the World Cup. In a letter addressed to corporate sponsors of the event, Sister Kathleen Coll, the Administrator of the organization’s Shareholder Advocacy program, wrote, “You are well-positioned to help address human trafficking. By your awareness of this situation, you can be part of the solution. We encourage you to use your advertising power to raise awareness of the prevalence of this horrific crime.”

“We would like to learn what your company is doing to counter this modern-day form of human slavery,” the letter stated.

The letter encouraged corporate sponsors to become signatories to the
Athens Ethical Principles, an effort by the business sector to support the anti-trafficking activities of governments and NGOs. The letter also encouraged sponsors to support Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), whose initiatives include the protection of children from sex tourism during the World Cup.

Asked if CBIS had considered expanding its engagement to include airlines, which in the US have also been resistant to adopting The Code, Tanner said, “We could have included the airlines, but at this point it’s a matter of capacity. I was not prepared for 300 signatories to our letter.”

“We also want to talk with the World Cup officials at FIFA,” she added.

Considering that the issue of child sex trafficking is fairly new for CBIS (it owns shares in Wyndham, and engagement with the hotel chain has led to a commitment to develop an employee training program on the issue), the impressive number of signatories to its letter, as well as the support of influential NGOs, provides hope that “globalization's darkest secret” may yet see light of day in South Africa.

 

 
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