Indian hotels to train staff to spot signs of sex trafficking

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hotels in Mumbai and other Indian cities are to train their staff to spot signs of sex trafficking such as frequent requests for bed linen changes or a “Do not disturb” sign left on the door for days on end.

The group behind the initiative is also developing a mobile phone app – Rescue Me – which hotel staff can use to alert local police and senior anti-trafficking officers if they see suspicious behavior.

“Hotels are breeding grounds for human trade,” said Sanee Awsarmmel, chairman of the alumni group of Maharashtra State Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology.

“(We) have hospitality professionals working in hotels across the country. We are committed to this cause.”

The initiative, spearheaded by the alumni group and backed by the Maharashtra state government, comes amid growing international recognition that hotels have a key role to play in fighting modern day slavery.

Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, is a major destination for trafficked girls who are lured from poor states and nearby countries on the promise of jobs, but then sold into the sex trade or domestic servitude.

With rising property prices, some traditional red light districts like those in Mumbai have started to disappear pushing the sex trade underground into private lodges and hotels, which makes it hard for police to monitor.

Awsarmmel said hotels would be told about 50 signs that staff needed to watch out for.

These include requests for rooms with a view of the carpark which are favored by traffickers as they allow them to vet clients for signs of trouble and check out their cars to gauge how much to charge.

Awsarmmel said hotel staff often noticed strange behavior such as a girl’s reticence during the check-in process or her dependence on the person accompanying her to answer questions and provide her proof of identity.

But in most cases, staff ignore these signs or have no idea what to do, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Rescue Me app - to be launched in a couple of months - will have a text feature where hotel staff can fill in details including room numbers to send an alert to police.

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise worth an estimated $150 billion a year, according to the International Labor Organization, which says nearly 21 million people globally are victims of forced labor and trafficking.

Last year, major hotel groups, including the Hilton and Shiva Hotels, pledged to examine their supply chains for forced labor, and train staff how to spot and report signs of trafficking.

Earlier this year, Mexico City also launched an initiative to train hotel staff about trafficking. [L8N1I55JH]

Vijaya Rahatkar, chairwoman of the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission, said the initiative would have an impact beyond the state as the alumni group had contact with about a million small hotels across India.

The group is also developing a training module on trafficking for hotel staff and hospitality students which could be used across the country.