The Combat Project: Using Research to Address Human Trafficking

Dr Maureen Brookes is a Reader in Marketing and Teaching Fellow at the Oxford School of Hospitality Management, Oxford Brookes University. She is Past President of ICHRIE and EuroCHRIE, a CHME Honorary Fellow, a member of the Institute of Hospitality’s Professional Panel and holds an honorary doctorate from NAFEM. Maureen’s most recent research has focused on combatting human trafficking (THB) in the hospitality industry. She was a co-investigator on the Combat THB in Hospitality and Tourism Project. Here, she explains the project’s aims and discusses the approach adopted to ensure real world impact from the research.

Trafficking in human beings (THB), is a fast growing criminal activity that affects most countries across the globe. It involves the movement of victims through force, coercion or abuse primarily for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation. Current estimates by the Walk Free Foundation (2017) suggest that are as many as 45 million global victims. The need to improve efforts to combat the crime of THB, protect victims and prosecute traffickers is increasingly recognised, as is the important role that businesses in the private sector can play in achieving this goal. One such sector is the hotel industry, which has been identified as a conduit for both the sexual and labour exploitation of trafficked victims (ITP, 2013).  Despite some commendable initiatives to combat this crime, high profile cases of trafficking in large international hotel brands in the UK, US and China, demonstrate the need for more proactive approaches across the sector. In the UK, the recent introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (2015) has served to reinforce the importance of undertaking proactive approaches to combatting THB within businesses and their global supply chains.

The Combat project sought to address this industry need and develop tools and resources for independent and chain-affiliated hotels to combat THB and mitigate their risks of involvement in this crime. The project was funded by the European Commission’s Directorate of Home Affairs and conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers in 3 European countries.  It examined THB from three perspectives; that of the victim, that of law enforcement and that of the hotel business. Data was gathered across the three countries in three stages; first through semi-structured key informant interviews, next through a survey of hotel managers and finally through focus groups of key stakeholders to test and refine the resources developed.

A key output of the project is the Combat Toolkit that proposes specific actions and measures to combat THB.  It comprises a wide range of resources for unit-level employees, senior management and corporate/board levels. A model of the THB victim’s journey has been developed to help business spot the signs of, and erect barriers to, trafficking. THB case studies, as identified through the research, 10-minute pre-shift training sessions and a train-the-trainer guide are also included. For more senior levels, the Toolkit contains a Google Earth map of trafficking routes to be used in portfolio risk assessment exercises, advice on policy development, reporting and auditing procedures within the business and supply chains. Further advise is offered and on working collaboratively with NGOs to support trafficked victims and law enforcement to help prosecute traffickers. The toolkit is designed to be adaptable for different types of accommodation businesses and different industry sectors.

The Combat Toolkit was officially launched to an invited audience of key THB stakeholders including independent and chain-affiliated hospitality professionals, professional associations, NGOs and charitable trusts, law enforcement, trade unions and government and inter-governmental agencies.  As these stakeholder groups are also the potential beneficiaries of the Combat project, a range of dissemination activities to encourage the use of the Toolkit have been undertaken. Regionally, we have delivered workshops on how to use the Toolkit to Hotel Watch Schemes, collaborative partnerships between accommodation providers, police and government councils. Representation on the multi-sector Oxford Anti-Slavery network ensures continual liaison with law enforcement and NGOs to identify where the Combat resources can be used effectively.
We have just formed the UK Modern Slavery Hotel Action Committee, to ensure different stakeholders work more collaboratively to identify and promote best practice through a regional Anti-Slavery Commission. We also continue to work closely with the SHIVA Foundation, who have used The Toolkit resources to inform their guidelines for members of the UK Stop Slavery Hotel Network. The Toolkit has also been made available online through their resource hub and through ehotelier Magazine. Presentations have been made to senior executives at the UNWTO, Madrid; the Hotel, Restaurant and Cafes Association of Europe (Hotrec) and the European Federation for Food, Agriculture and Tourism (EFFAT), Brussels, at their request. The International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) has translated some of the resources for training police and border officials in 7 European countries susceptible to labour trafficking. The Toolkit has been officially endorsed and commended by the Institute of Hospitality (IOH), a webinar delivered and a Management Guide written for their industry members in over 100 countries. It is also freely available to industry and academia through its microsite at Oxford Brookes University and through the EuroCHRIE and CHME websites. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and numerous press reports have been published as a result. 
As researchers, we recognize there is still work to be done to enhance the impact of the Combat project. We continue to seek ways to further develop our resources to ensure that they meet the needs of industry, victims and law enforcement. We are working on future grant applications to extend our work, working collaboratively with relevant NGOs, law enforcement and government agencies for this purpose. Our goal is to ensure that our research has meaningful impact beyond academia. That said, we are also publishing journal articles on our research, one of which is also published through Emerald. The article is available for all to download here and read for free until mid-May 2018. 
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