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Last month, Dr Maureen Brookes of Oxford Brookes University, a member of the European Commission co-funded Combat Human Trafficking project team, was fortunate to attend a planning meeting for Hotel Watch Oxford, a new initiative in the fight against human exploitation.
Following the meeting, Linda Ludlow, Human Exploitation Coordinator for Oxford City Council and Neil Applegarth of Thames Valley Police shared their thoughts on the Hotel Watch initiative in detail below.
Could you tell us about the reasons behind launching Hotel Watch Oxford? Who are the key stakeholders in this project?
We are looking to develop and deepen our relationship with this section of the business community so that we can improve communication both to and from the official agencies but also amongst the businesses themselves. The accommodation sector is one of several areas that we have learned from previous exploitation investigations that if well trained and prepared can be on the front line of identifying and reporting suspicious activity.
So, the inspiration for the initiative comes from the drive to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and other forms of exploitation, but once established we are hopeful that the sector can talk to each other and share best practices around other business areas too, and we hope to stay involved to be able to contribute information and ideas from our perspective.
The main agencies are Thames Valley Police, Oxford City Council and Oxford County Council but there are quite a few different disciplines or specialised departments within the main organisations who have a role to play in this.
If we can help the accommodation companies to train their staff to identify and report suspicious activity we can improve the flow of intelligence we can use the information to build a picture of where and how Human Trafficking is taking place. From there we can take the best steps to protect the victims whilst disrupting, investigating and prosecuting the offenders.
Whilst the inspiration and drive for this scheme has come from Child Sexual Exploitation, the scheme will be equally useful in tackling all forms of exploitation and, as time goes by, we hope that the scheme will eventually improve crime reduction and reporting across all crime categories. We are already receiving feedback from the industry that cyber crime and internet fraud are areas of concern to them, and we will look at those areas with them in due course.
Initially we are offering delegates from across the sector a free 2 hour conference where the involved agencies will provide inputs on the types of exploitation and the impacts they can have. We aim to offer information that could ultimately be used by the companies to develop their own policies and staff training. During the conference we will be asking to the companies to ‘sign up’ to Hotel Watch which we hope will open the lines of communication for the future. Ultimately we hope that the accommodation sector will take the initiative and adopt it for themselves enabling them to direct it in a manner whereby they can make the maximum benefit from it. The agencies hope to remain engaged so that we can continue to contribute, and benefit, from Hotel Watch.
Your project already has a lot of experience at looking at this crime type from the perspectives of both the businesses and the responsible agencies. This means that everybody involved can benefit from your existing knowledge and experience. If the concept of information sharing is to be successful the key will be making sure that information moves in both directions - so that everybody benefits.
Longer term, once the toolkit you are developing is ready, the businesses will be able to directly benefit from that.
The Combat project team are delighted that the hotel training toolkits we are developing can be used to support this worthwhile initiative. The toolkits are designed to help accommodation providers identify human trafficking signals and erect appropriate barriers to combat human trafficking. The toolkits will be accompanied by a ‘Train the Trainer Manual’ and other useful training materials and will be available free of charge to hotels and other accommodation providers.
This blog reflects only the author’s view and not that of the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of information contained in this blog.