When most people think of trafficking, they automatically think of human trafficking where people are forced into the sex trade. While it’s true that this is a huge problem around the world, the fact is that human trafficking can apply to anyone who has been forced or coerced into work that is often paid below minimum wage and involves long and demanding hours.
In these cases, third parties, such as shadowy job agencies are usually paid kickbacks to recruit these people. It’s a horrifying example of exploitation, but it is unfortunately all too common. In fact, it could be happening right under your nose at local restaurants.
Vulnerabilities in the hospitality industry
Restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality sector are especially vulnerable to instances of human trafficking. It’s an area where many migrants often seek work, either legally or illegally, and where long hours at low pay are the norm rather than the exception. How many people will go to a local restaurant, for example, and wonder at the legal status of the workers there? Most of us simply eat and leave.
Immigrants are particularly at risk of being exploited in this way for the following reasons:
- They lack a good understanding of the local language,
- They become reliant on recruitment agencies to find them work because they are economically disadvantaged in their new country,
- They are worried about being deported and would prefer to work in poor conditions for low pay rather than go back to their own country or get into trouble with the authorities.
When is it human trafficking?
Long hours and low pay sound pretty normal in the hospitality industry and in restaurants in particular, but genuine cases of human trafficking can be distinguished in the following ways:
- A worker is being coerced under threat of being deported, getting into trouble with the law, losing their passport or visa, or having their family members harmed,
- A worker is forced into work because they are being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused,
- They are forced to remain in their workplace because they are being monitored by others are observed by security cameras,
- They do not have access to medical treatment,
- They are simply too exhausted to resist because of the brutally long hours worked,
- They have been told lies by an agency and the work has been misrepresented.
Vulnerable people in this position often feel that they have no other choice but to work and obey the rules. It’s a huge problem that requires a solution within the establishments themselves. In this context, an ethics hotline that addresses human trafficking can be invaluable.
How will a hotline help?
Implementing a hotline is integral in other industries and provides employees with a channel for reporting ethical breaches, misconduct, and criminal behaviors. So, is it useful for human trafficking in the restaurant sector?
Many small recruitment agencies with ties to human trafficking will place immigrants in restaurants and other eateries due to the high demand for workers in this area. In some cases, these vulnerable people are working right alongside staff members who aren’t being exploited in the same way.
The restaurant owner may be quite happy to take on migrant workers in order to save some money, but they are still enabling human trafficking whether they know it or not. In fact, in many cases the owners don’t even realize what they are doing and how they are supporting this shadowy industry.
Any ethics hotline that has been set-up can help to guard against these kinds of breaches. It will allow staff members to report any possible instances of human trafficking. For employers who want to ensure that they are not supporting these criminal recruitment agencies in their trafficking practices, training staff on what to look and listen for, and how to report is crucial.