CSR best practice for abolishing child labor in the travel and tourism industry.

Author:Goldstein, Jeremy S.
Position:Corporate social responsibility
  1. Introduction

    [Who has not met someone like them the little boys who try to sell souvenirs to tourists on the beach, the young girls who sell postcards and trinkets, the bell-boys and porters, the shoeshine boys, street vendors, and self-styled guides]--"all eager to offer their services to foreigners? Children and young people all over the world contribute greatly to the success of millions of holidaymakers' 'most precious days of the year.'" (1)

    Any tourist who has travelled outside of the developed world has likely seen, interacted with, or purchased a good or service from a child like the ones that Christine Pluss describes. However, "this may be merely the tip of the iceberg[,]" she explains, as "[m]uch less visible are the girls and boys who work behind the scenes. Often in hiding because they are working illegally, they wash dishes, prepare vegetables, fetch water, and stack laundry, toiling from dawn to dusk." (2) As a result of their participation in the workforce, many of these children face impediments to their education and personal development, experience unanticipated health problems, and find drastically fewer opportunities for career advancement when they reach adult age. (3) Businesses across the world have adopted self-regulating corporate social responsibility ("CSR") policies designed to reduce the negative impact their operations have on people and the environment, often with highly defined child labor prohibitions. (4) CSR can be an effective tool for reducing the incidence of child labor in the Travel and Tourism ("T&T") industry as well, but most T&T businesses have been slow to adopt policies in line with international standards." As the WTO explains, "[although it is widely recognised that tourism is not the [sole] cause of child exploitation, it can aggravate the problem when parts of its infrastructure, such as transport networks and accommodation facilities, are exploited by child abusers for nefarious ends." (5) However, "while tourism infrastructure can be misused for illicit ends, it can also be reclaimed as a force to fight this same exploitation." (6)

    This analysis argues that due to the nature and size of the T&T industry, businesses operating therein have a unique ability, and specific duty, to adopt robust CSR policies with a pre-eminent focus on people that aim to reduce the incidence of child labor and effectively abolish the worst forms of child labor throughout the tourism value chain. This article will discuss a sampling of the tools available as guidance to T&T businesses in developing their CSR policies in order to effectively satisfy this duty, and highlight industry leaders who exemplify corporate best practice. In support of this aim this article will discuss: the international standards on child rights and child labor; the current status of child labor worldwide and in the T&T industry; the fundamental principles of CSR; CSR as it relates to child labor; and CSR in the T&T industry.

    Calls for the effective abolition of child labor are timely. (8) In response to the global child labor crisis, the U.N. has followed up on its millennium commitment to "ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world's people[,]" (9) by calling for a prohibition on child labor in the (2030) Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda). (10) The 2030 Agenda was adopted by the UN in September of 2015 and includes 17 goals and 169 targets for sustainable development--the Sustainable Development Goals ("SDGs"). (11) Therein, the UN Secretary General wrote that the SDGs aim to "[t]ake immediate and effective measures to ... secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour ... and by (2025) end child labour in all its forms." (12) Prohibiting child labor, however, does not entail stopping all work performed by children; complete elimination is not entirely realistic, 'international labour standards allow the distinction to be made between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable forms of work for children at different ages and stages of development[,]" (13) or more simply put, there is a distinction between 'child work' and 'child labor'.

    There are no reliable figures estimating the total number of children employed in the T&T industry, but over one-quarter of the world's child laborers are employed in the services sector, (14) which includes hotel employees and tour operators, transportation workers and porters, and a host of other service providers, many of whom directly or indirectly work for tourists. (15) In developing nations where T&T accounts for a large percentage of GDP, the incidence of child labor in the services sector within the tourism value chain is even higher. (16) T&T also contributes to child labor through product supply chain. The T&T industry accounts for a large percentage of consumer goods purchased in tourism dependent developing nations, some of which may be manufactured or sold with the use of child labor. (17)

    On the other hand, the T&T industry is a major driver of economic development, specifically in developing nations and small-island developing states ("SIDS"). (18) In many nations tourism and related development directly and substantially contributes to the alleviation of poverty, provides educational opportunities, encourages stability in foreign current markets, enables cross-cultural exchange, and carries numerous other benefits for host countries and their citizens. (19) The T&T industry is inherently driven by businesses; both multinational enterprises ("MNE's") and small and medium enterprises ("SME's") are active in the industry. (20) Historically, businesses have defined their success only in terms of profit, positing that shareholders are amoral and only concerned with economic performance. (21) The purely profit-driven model, however, is fading into history, primarily as a result of investors, corporate management, and consumers coming to recognize the unrealized positive effect that business can have on the communities in which they operate, and the enormous toll that business activities currently place on people and the planet. (22)

    The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ("UNGP") states that "business enterprises should respect human rights[,]" and that "[t]he responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate." (23) An effective CSR program which ensures that corporate activities respect human rights can have a significant positive impact on the way a corporation interacts with its customers, the communities in which it operates, its investors, and other stakeholders. (24) CSR requires that corporations adopt policies, plan initiatives, and regulate their corporate environment in a manner which utilizes a triple bottom-line approach that considers the impact its business activities have on people and planet, not just profit. (25) It requires that corporate policy be drafted in adherence to available codes of conduct, and include reliable certification and transparent reporting. (26) It also requires that corporations take action to remedy violations of their internal policy. (27) CSR policies which enumerate prohibitions on child labor throughout the supply chain, consistent, at minimum, with international standards, can be "invaluable weaponry in the battle against the exploitation of children." (28)

    Following this introduction, section II discusses the fundamental rights of children and the international standards for child labor rights, and presents relevant statistics on child labor worldwide, paying particular attention to developing nations with a significant tourism sector. It highlights the fundamental consequences associated with child labor, including the short-term and long-term effects on child laborers' health, wellbeing, and livelihoods. Section III discusses the T&T industry, highlighting its contribution to development, international cooperation, and education, and the negative impact it has on people and planet. It discusses the impact of T&T on child labor rights and presents available statistics on child labor in the industry, the types of jobs performed by child laborers in the industry, and the economic, cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism which affect children. Section IV discusses CSR in detail, including its definitions and international founding documents, focusing on guidelines with child labor protections and documents with specific guidance for the T&T industry. Section V presents examples of best practice CSR initiatives and policies in the T&T industry, paying specific attention to policies and initiatives directly addressing child labor, including the CSR policies of industry leaders Accor hotels, Marriott hotels, and Intrepid Travel. Section VI concludes with the authors' opinion and a call for awareness and action.


    1. Rights of the Child and International Child Labor Standards

      Children enjoy the same human rights accorded to all people. But, lacking the knowledge, experience or physical development of adults and the power to defend their own interests in an adult world, children also have distinct rights to protection by virtue of their age. One of these is protection from economic exploitation and from work that is dangerous to the health and morals of children or which hampers the child's development. (29) The UNSG, in the 2030 Agenda document, expresses as a discrete goal ending "child labour in all its forms." (30) SDG Target 8.7 recommends that we "[t]ake immediate and effective measures to ... secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour ... and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms." (31) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ("CRC") is the foundational document in the international bill of rights that addresses the rights of children...

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