Destination labour rights ‘huge concern’ for sector, says Der Touristik sustainability chief

Industry responsibility for labour and human rights in destinations was described as “the elephant in the room” at the Abta Delivering Sustainable Travel Conference.

Anke Winchenbach, senior lecturer at the University of Surrey and lead author of a forthcoming report on ‘Identifying and addressing risks to labour and human rights in travel and tourism’, told the conference: “Social sustainability is hard to measure [and] without research I don’t see how the industry can feel confident [about its role].”

She suggested labour and human rights in destinations are “the elephant in the room” of sustainability.

But Winchenbach insisted: “We should seek to collaborate [with destinations]. Not engaging and not collaborating is not an option. International unions are doing that, saying ‘Let us come in and educate people on decent working conditions and labour rights’.”

She argued: “It’s people in these countries driving change, not the industry. But we need to hear their cries. We have to collaborate and take social sustainability equally seriously with the climate emergency.”

Winchenbach noted new EU regulations make workers’ rights “a legal compliance issue”.

Der Touristik director of sustainability Claire Ross (pictured) agreed: “Labour rights are a huge concern.” She said: “Legislation is helpful. It does push you and gives a framework for action. [But] I agree with collaboration, not imposing [requirements] from without. We’re in a position to work with [destination] partners.”

Ross said: “For example, in Thailand a lot of children work to support their families. We have a child protection policy. [But] one in 10 children [in Thailand] are in work. They can work from the age of 13 to support their family so long as it does not impact on their education.”

She suggested: “If you’re the direct cause of child labour, you have a responsibility to sort it out. If you’re not the direct cause but your business contributes to it, how can you influence that?”

Abta director of industry relations Susan Deer argued: “We sometimes underestimate the impact the industry has in destinations. Child protection is an important piece of protection that travel businesses work on but would not put in brochures.”

Winchenbach said the report “looks at major risks and how to address them”.

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