Human Rights & Hospitality

What means for hospitality businesses the Business and Human Rights Roadmap established by the UN Working Group for the Next Decade?

December 10th was International Human Rights Day. It marks the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights have recently published its roadmap for the Next Decade. It sets out eight action areas to scale up the United Nations Guiding Principles Reporting Framework (UNGPs) integration and implementation and achieve tangible results.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated systemic weaknesses, inequalities, and unacceptable practices throughout global value chains in many industries, as well as in the tourism industry. If we would like to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals United Nations agenda by 2030, it is required to ensure commitments and management systems are in place to support businesses to deliver on their respective social and environmental challenges.

Hospitality industry companies face numerous challenges, such as revenue loss, reduced occupancy, or still having properties closed. Also, environmental and social issues are now a priority in corporate agendas. More industry investors aim to have these impacts considered in investment decisions as a strategy to create a more equitable and inclusive society.

Destination management also plays a fundamental role. Public-private collaboration is vital for guaranteeing tourism products and services that ensure human rights. It means that both public and private institutions are accountable for labor practices, such as fair working conditions, education, local community employment, avoiding leakage, including those living at risk of social exclusion, and integrating them in the tourism value chain. 

Other areas that assure human rights in the hospitality industry can be supporting permaculture, small-scale farming, sustaining grower communities by developing partnerships with cooperatives and producers. It is fundamental to prevent and identify child labor, and forced work throughout global supply chains, especially in developing countries, enhancing global and multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development. Fairtrade is also an aspect of human rights in hospitality, considering criteria for the fair practice of tourism. The best practices must include human rights assessments in sustainable supply chain management. 

At the corporate level, through ethical policies and staff training, supplier agreements must include specific clauses in commercial contracts, educate customers through awareness-raising social and environmental issues, ensure prosperity, and empower local stakeholders. 

Hotel leadership teams have to implement processes internally, along with technology, to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for human rights violations and spot risks in the business value chain, and dispose of procedures for remedying the negative consequences on human rights they cause or contribute to causing.

The Hospitality industry has enormous opportunities to advocate for human rights and contribute to the sustainable development goals associated with social wellbeing. From the investors’ activism and long-term perspective, it can create benefits in society and positive impacts to the different stakeholders. The regulation on sustainability disclosure in the financial services sector (SFDR) came into force in March 2021. SFDR explicitly mentions respect for human rights as part of the ‘sustainability factors’ financial institutions must report on, further increasing the pressure for companies and stakeholder businesses to address the “S” in ESG. 

The Modern Slavery Act is a globally leading piece of legislation. It sets out a range of measures on how modern slavery and human trafficking should be dealt with in the United Kingdom. The Act is embedded in business operations, reporting, including education to internal and external business stakeholders, having KPIs and monitoring, and assessing operations and supply chain. 

Audit all your stakeholders and business processes to ensure human rights, from living wage to diversity and inclusion policy, as a priority in corporate governance. Human rights due diligence, despite being so crucial for the effective management of human rights risks, remains an area of poor performance across all tourism sub-sectors.


The human rights assessments will allow the industry to incorporate Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) procedures, have a greater sense of place, and support the local community and regenerative practices through Community-Based Tourism (CBT). Public institutions can reinforce Responsible Investment (RI) practices through greater regulation for new developments and existing hospitality projects.

Materiality on Stakeholders dimensions that matter

Materiality assessments through the sustainability matrix are not the only solution. The materiality method considers stakeholders’ issues but does not follow a scientific approach. Often there is not enough data about stakeholders, and thus, companies make decisions based on assumptions. Senior management must be leading the team in identifying the human rights issues in the industry, workforce, and local communities put systems in place to tackle systemic challenges, and be involved in reporting. Another aspect is prioritizing. Perhaps all the effort is in the natural issues and the carbon emissions, when there is a violation of human rights in shifts and pay. 

To effectively implement the materiality assessments, it has to engage stakeholders’ issues and collect data for reporting. It is vital to establish processes that allow companies to listen to stakeholders’ issues and worries, gather data, analyze it, and ensure it is a relevant and inclusive process. 

To tackle human rights matters in the hotel value chain, avoid mechanized reporting, and understand industry-related problems. Following mechanized reporting systems will not allow brands to stand up, proactively tackle many subjects, including human rights violations in hospitality value chains. 

Having priorities and risk assessments, one must be identifying material issues, including stakeholders selection and engagement. Has to be a broad selection to comprehend what risks and impacts the business has.

In terms of engagement, senior teams have to facilitate conversations with stakeholders to understand the issues and concerns. This way, management teams will ensure human rights due diligence, prevent and spot human rights violations and create internal systems to tackle those issues accordingly. 

Better planning and understanding of how the hotel or the group impacts and manages its governance is fundamental to dealing with human rights issues. It will allow hospitality businesses to improve accountability, disclosure of practices and policies, and improve challenges in their respective non-financial reporting. 

Maribel Esparcia Pérez
ESG Sustainability Expert
ABC Sustainable Luxury Hospitality

Sustainability & ESG Advisor and Professor | Key Traits: Curiosity, Trust, Dedication

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