Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Code

Hilton promises to combat child sex trafficking

By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY

In an important milestone for activists who fight child sex trafficking, Hilton Worldwide has promised to combat the ugly problem, becoming just the second US-based hotel company to sign the international code of conduct known as "The Code."

Hilton is signing the tourism Code of Conduct, as written by ECPAT International. The code is aimed at protecting children from being sexually exploited in the travel and tourism industries around the world - an ugly problem that the travel industry in the past has been reluctant to discuss publicly.

The issue has been gaining some visibility lately. Last week, for instance, celebrities Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, for instance, talked about child sex trafficking on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight."

By signing The Code, Hilton vows to educate its employees about how to identify potentially illegal relationships involving children in their hotels, and teach those employees how to take action.

"Some companies fear that associating with the tragic reality of child sex tourism will hurt their corporate brands or public images. The actions of Hilton Worldwide and Delta demonstrate that in fact taking a strong stand against child exploitation and trafficking is good for business," Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT's USA division, said in a statement.

ECPAT-USA's mission includes protecting foreign children exploited by American tourists who are traveling abroad, as well as children trafficked into the USA for sexual exploitation.

Today, Carlson - parent of Radisson, Radisson Blu and Country Inns and Suites - is the only US-based hotel giant to have signed the code.

Carlson's former CEO, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, for years championed The Code, trying to convince other U.S. hotel giants and airlines to sign on but progress has been slow. Lately, however, child sex trafficking has become a more broadly known issue in the world - and in the USA.

Hilton's move makes it the fourth US company to agree to work with ECPAT; last month Delta Air Lines became the first US airline to sign on. A tour company called Global Exchange's Reality Tours has also signed The Code.

By agreeing to work with ECPAT's USA division, Hilton will implement policies that condemn child trafficking and also train employees how to spot potentially illegal activities.

Last year, Hilton came under fire by online social-justice groups such as Change.org on this issue following the discovery last year of a brothel in one of its hotels in China. In July 2010, Chinese police found a brothel operating in the independently run karaoke bar inside Hilton's five-star Chongqing hotel. At the time, authorities ordered the closure of the hotel for a full week and the hotel lost its fifth star. Although the issue of child trafficking did not come up, the connection was nevertheless made.

A few months after the discovery, Hilton vowed to crack down on child sex trafficking in all of its hotels.

Jennifer Silberman, Hilton's head of corporate responsibility, told Hotel Check-In in an interview in February that Hilton was in the final stages of reaching agreement with ECPAT-USA.

"We had an action plan, and we've been working with them," she said.

Readers: Do you think travel companies should get involved with the problem of child sex trafficking?

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