Church investors meet with FTSE-listed hotel chains over Olympic trafficking

Hotels in spotlight ahead of London games

Church investors are engaging with FTSE-listed hotel chains InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Whitbread over fears about human trafficking and prostitution in connection with next year’s Olympic Games in London.

Bill Seddon, chief executive of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, said the Church Investors Group has arranged to meet with both companies early next week.

The investors are taking their cue from an initiative launched by the Christian Brothers Investment Services, the US investor, which contacted eight international hotel groups ahead of last year’s World Cup soccer tournament.

The 2012 Olympics are “the ideal hook for us” to raise awareness and engage with companies, Seddon said during a debate organised by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) yesterday.

He said the firms had claimed the issue was medium to low priority for them. Both Whitbread and IHG declined to attend the meeting, said debate moderator Victoria Heath, Head of Business Development at sustainable research firm EIRIS.

CCLA, the £4.2bn (€4.9bn) fund manager for the Church of England and charities, has published a report on the issue to help inform investors. “Hotels, sex trafficking and London 2012” was written and researched by the ECCR.

The initiative comes as hotel industry trade body theInternational Tourism Partnership, of which both IHG and Whitbread are members, released a statement in support of the Guiding Principles of the UN‟s “Protect, Respect and Remedy” human rights framework (the “Ruggie” framework). The statement, released earlier this month, commits ITP members to develop corporate anti-trafficking strategies.

Despite this, IHG and Whitbread have yet to sign up to a code of conduct developed by campaign group ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Tourism and Pornography), CCLA says. It is looking forward to further engagement with the companies in December “in partnership with other likeminded investors”.

Separately, Seddon told the meeting that the Central Finance Board is currently putting together guidance on pornography “to complement and enhance” its existing media policy. Speaking strictly in a personal capacity, he said it was “incredible” that the church wasn’t making more of an issue out of pornography.

At the meeting, opposition Labour Party MP Stella Creasy and crime spokesperson called on the ECCR to engage with London boroughs as well as hotel chains on trafficking.

Catherine Howarth, CEO of Fair Pensions, said that just 43 FTSE 100 companies had replied to its living wage campaign. Eight firms had taken steps to bring pay up to the living wage standard for both their own and contracted staff. “We need more pressure applied,” she said.