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In our research for the COMBAT project, we encountered significant support but also a lot of denial from key industry players with regards to human trafficking. One of the welcome surprises in this research journey was to find a London based hotel company (as opposed to big corporate brands) with such sensitivity to the matter that they started their own foundation to fight this contemporary menace.
With over 2,000 bedrooms in London either operational or under development, Shiva Hotel Group has an impressive portfolio of properties including the Kingsway Hall in Covent Garden, the landmark Millennium Bridge House overlooking the Thames, the boutique Vandon House in Buckingham Gate, Morley House on Holborn Viaduct, Hampton by Hilton in Waterloo (the largest Hampton outside the U.S.A) and Lincoln Plaza at Canary Wharf. These compliment a further 500 beds in key cities across UK.
Meenal Sachdev founded Shiva Foundation in 2012 with her husband Rishi who is the founder and managing director of Shiva Hotels. The Foundation is dedicated to using its resources, skills and networks to create a bold new movement to end human trafficking and slavery. It intends to be a thought leader in this area and invites continued support and innovation on this issue both within the hospitality industry and among other stakeholders. Nishma Jethwa, Senior Programme Manager at Shiva Foundation is leading their efforts to address trafficking in the UK and in India. In addition to looking at how this manifests itself in the hospitality industry, Shiva is making prevention a key priority for 2016. By working with a range of influencers across the spectrum including youth groups, women in the city and local government leaders, Shiva is playing a unique triple role of educating, facilitating and funding leaders in this field.
A graduate of SOAS and with an MPhil at Cambridge, Meenal is the mother of two young boys and also a Councillor in Hertsmere. She believes that education is a necessary tool to solve so many challenges the world faces today. With a firm dedication to investing in individuals and communities, Meenal is involved in a range of service-based activities and social enterprises. She co-founded a youth leadership charity, Connect India in 2008, and is on the board of social enterprise launchpad, Unltd.
The COMBAT team was thrilled to secure an interview with Meenal and find out more about how she was involved in the fight against human trafficking, her personal insights on the matter and her aspirations for the Foundation.
What were your personal motivations in setting up a foundation to combat human trafficking?
This happened overnight. In early 2012, my husband and I heard stories about the widespread issues related to child trafficking. As a mother of two, I lost sleep over this for a while and I felt this urgent need to act. I thought it was my responsibility to do something.
As part of the Shiva Hotel’s CSR we wanted to focus on issues related to children and human trafficking. When we started, we were really jumping into the deep end without knowing too much about it, but we knew we wanted to do something. In 2014 Shiva Foundation really took off in a more strategic way. We thought that despite the limited funds available to us, we should invest the resources we do have to educate ourselves and identify gaps in the sector in order to intervene intelligently.
In what ways do you think hospitality is most vulnerable to human trafficking?
To be honest, I was very new to this issue until quite recently and especially to how it interacted with the hospitality industry. As you know, we organised a preliminary workshop earlier this year with the general managers of our hotels, run by Unseen. It was during the process of preparing for this that I learnt that hotels weren’t just vulnerable from the standpoint of guests being potential victims but also with issues relating to employee recruitment and supply chains. In fact, it is our understanding that the latter is probably more of an issue in UK-based hotels than the former. We are now looking at putting together a comprehensive action plan that will allow us to start investigating this issue in more depth and hopefully create pathways for change within our own business structures. We have put together a working group consisting of representatives from the operational level staff, the management team and the foundation who will also further consult with civil society organisations and government to create a model of change.
What have been your priorities so far in the work of the Foundation?
Last year our main priority was to learn - to educate ourselves on the issue, key stakeholders and gaps in the UK's response. It is vital, in my opinion, to have a certain level of awareness about this complex issue before diving into new programs to tackle it. A key learning for us has been that it can be all too easy to deflect the problem onto other stakeholders, but at the end of the day it is up to us to make the difference and we must start on our own doorstep. For us, this means working with key individuals within our own business, as well as leaders outside of this space.
Since we are in the unique position of not needing to compete for funds or resources, we want to work on some of the more challenging areas. In particular, we intend to focus on prevention and making long-term systemic changes at the institutional level. We feel this requires:
How do you see the COMBAT project complementing the various initiatives against human trafficking in the hospitality industry?
From what I know about the project, I think there is an urgent need for the work the COMBAT team are doing. The toolkits will be invaluable and provide meaningful guidance for hotels who really want to tackle the issue of trafficking at all levels. By consulting with hotels themselves (whilst also drawing on more academic research), the project has credibility within the sector and I hope it will be able to bring companies together to take a more uniform and collaborative approach. I would also like to see more transparent sharing between hotels regarding what they are doing and why. It is only by acting together that we will make any real impact on the issue.
What are your aspirations for the future in terms of how Shiva Foundation can make a difference to the wider hospitality industry?
It makes sense to us to attack this issue on our doorstep, within Shiva Hotels, as a priority. We will do this not only by providing professional training within the hotel staff at all levels, but also by embedding a culture of respect for human rights throughout our business. We want to put systems in place which will enable individual hotels to be creative and ruthless both at the same time in the way they tackle this issue. If this is successful, we hope others within the sector will take note as we would willingly share our processes and help others do the same.
For the COMBAT team, Shiva Foundation is a prime example of industry reacting to human trafficking and actually moving from ‘awareness’ to ‘action’. Meenal was not afraid to state openly that “the hospitality industry is a hub for human trafficking” ( Daily Mail, 2015) and in this interview talked about “bold and courageous steps” that the industry needs to take in combating human trafficking. We hope that our toolkit will offer some help to companies like Shiva Hotels towards this goal.
This blog reflects only the author’s views and not those if the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of information contained in this blog.