The Hotel Industry Needs To Do More To Stop Human Trafficking

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Hotel chains claim they do not tolerate their properties being used for human trafficking. Yet the problem persists. As Dr. Maureen Brookes from the Oxford School of Hospitality Management says, sex trafficking is a crime against humanity. Hotels chains must do more to stop it.

Human trafficking is a global business worth around $150 billion a year and $99 billion of that comes from sex trafficking. Hotels and motels are at the center of sex trafficking, for obvious reasons. Several recently filed lawsuits indicate that the hotel industry is not doing enough to prevent sex trafficking.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center (NCOSE) filed a lawsuit against three hotel chains (Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Inc., Choice Hotels International, Inc. and G6 Hospitality, LLC.) for facilitating and profiting from the sex trafficking of a minor. The plaintiff was only 16 years old when she began to be trafficked in 2014 at the hotels named in the lawsuit. Her trafficking lasted for two years, and she was forced to perform sex acts with 10 to 20 men a day in rooms her traffickers rented at Super 8, Clarion Inn, and Motel 6.

“Through hotel staff and employees, these hotels should have known that the plaintiff was being trafficked for sex due to, but not limited to: large amounts of used condoms, empty lube bottles, and other sex-related items in the hotel room; payments for the rooms in cash; the plaintiff’s physical appearance (malnourished, bruised, beaten); a continuous procession of older men entering and leaving the plaintiff’s room; and excessive requests for sheets, cleaning supplies, room service,” said Benjamin Bull, general counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

The lawsuit is not the only one brought against hotel chains. In December 2019, a lawsuit was filed against 12 hotel chains on behalf of 13 women claiming they were sex trafficked in hotel rooms. The hotel chains named in the lawsuit include Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Red Roof Inn, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Inc.

Hotels, motels, and sex trafficking

The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 3,596 cases of human trafficking involving a hotel or motel from December 2007 to December 31, 2017. Of those 3,596 cases, 81 percent of them were used within the escort services business model. In other words, the majority of cases involved sex trafficking. Seventy-five percent of human trafficking survivors who participated in a survey by the non-profited Polaris reported coming into contact with hotels at some point. As a Polaris report states, “Hotels are a piece of the infrastructure necessary to facilitate human trafficking in escort services.”

“This is not one bad apple that need to be dealt with,” Luis CdeBaca, former U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador-at-large, told Reuters. “The entire barrel has a problem … For years the hospitality industry has known that sex trafficking and especially child sex trafficking has occurred on their properties and yet it continues to happen.”

Hotel chains named in lawsuits tout corporate responsibility

The hotel chains named in the lawsuits make big claims about what they are doing to prevent human trafficking in their hotels. Wyndham Hotels states that it is committed to “putting a stop to human trafficking is a major priority for us and our entire industry.” The hotel chain touts its support of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Polaris Project.

Most of the hotel chains facing lawsuits claim to be educating staff and management about human trafficking. 

Choice Hotels states that it educates the staff and management of its franchised hotels and provides them with online training about human trafficking, plus makes resources available. 

G6 Hospitality, which owns Motel 6 and Studio 6 hotels, states that it implemented ways to prevent human trafficking, including training and response. The hotel chain claims to train all its staff to be on the lookout for signs of human trafficking and alert the property’s general manager, local police, and the Motel 6/Studio 6 hotline. 

Hilton touts its human rights recognition training, which includes training to teach staff and management to look for signs of human trafficking at all of its hotels.

Several of the hotel chains named in the lawsuits make bold, sweeping statements about human trafficking and/or human rights. While Red Roof Inn “condemns all forms of human trafficking,” Best Western International states that it “endeavors to conduct its business in a manner that is consistent with fundamental human rights.” International Resorts claims to “support and protect human rights wherever we can.”

The fact that human trafficking victims are suing the hotel chains indicates they have much work to do beyond making big claims. By not doing all they can to prevent and stop human trafficking, hotel chains open themselves up to legal, operational, and reputational risks. However, it is also “a crime against humanity,” according to Dr. Maureen Brookes from the Oxford School of Hospitality Management. And it is a crime that the hotel industry can help end.

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