By Christina Kamp. All actors in tourism have to honour their obligations under the international human rights framework. With reference to our study on human rights and tourism, published by the German Church Development Service (EED) earlier this year*, we asked Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization, about UNWTO's efforts and possibilities to encourage their members to fully respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of people in tourist destinations and of the employees working in the tourism sector. Taleb Rifai is from Jordan. Since January 2010, he has been the General Secretary of UNWTO. Headquartered in Madrid, UNWTO has since 2003 got the status of a specialised agency of the United Nations.
TW: What role does the protection and promotion of human rights in tourism play in the work of UNWTO?
Taleb Rifai: The protection and promotion of human rights represents the very cornerstone of UNWTO's work. Article 3 of our Statutes explicitly states that the fundamental aim of UNWTO shall be "the promotion and development of tourism with a view to contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity, and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion..."
UNWTO's guiding policy document, the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET)** - essentially a road map for the development and implementation of responsible and sustainable tourism - is anchored to the same standards for integrity, mutual respect and dignity enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 2.2 stresses that tourism activities should promote human rights, particularly those of vulnerable groups; Article 8.1 calls for all tourists to be at liberty to travel without being subject to discrimination, in accordance with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration; and Article 7.1 and 7.2 put forth that the universal right to tourism must be regarded as the corollary of the right to rest and leisure guaranteed by Article 24 of the Universal Declaration.
Against this background, the promotion of human rights through the Code of Ethics is fundamental to the work of the Organization. UNWTO allots particular priority to vulnerable groups: the protection of children from all forms of exploitation in tourism; the equality, empowerment and advancement of women; and ensuring the accessibility of tourism infrastructure and services for persons with disabilities, for the elderly, and for the socio-economically disadvantaged.
Some of these issues have been taken to the highest level of the Organization. As an example, the Declaration on the Facilitation of Travel adopted by the 18th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly (2009) includes two items dedicated to persons with disabilities and persons affected by HIV addressing the need to decrease any existing travel barriers. In order to promote the importance of these issues globally, UNWTO has recently awarded the UNWTO Ulysses Awards in the categories of Innovation in Non-Governmental Organizations to two projects designed to foster accessible tourism.
Furthermore, UNWTO advocates for ever more vigilance to ensure that the cultural heritage and cultural rights of communities are safeguarded, especially their intangible legacy. We promote responsible attitudes, greater awareness, and conscientious conduct among travellers to prevent the deliberate or inadvertent violation of the rights of host communities.
TW: In our study, we are asking UNWTO to encourage states and businesses to better fulfil their human rights-related obligations in tourism. One suggestion is that UNWTO should offer "due diligence advising" for UNWTO members. What do you think about this idea and what could such an approach look like in practice?
Taleb Rifai: We advise our Member States as to the respect for human rights in tourism through encouraging States to put into practice the principles of the Code within their respective territories. Although voluntary by nature, and thus not legally binding, the Code of Ethics entails a moral obligation for all UNWTO Member States, who adopted it by consensus. Compliance with, and the implementation of, its provisions is, therefore, seen as a moral imperative for our Members.
We closely monitor the Code's implementation and report on the subject both to the General Assembly of UNWTO and the General Assembly of the United Nations, thereby giving States who uphold human rights as championed by the Code greater visibility, and all the more incentive to fulfil their human rights-related obligations in tourism.
In terms of the private sector's moral obligation to ensure respect for human rights, UNWTO calls on companies to adopt Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies that go beyond the traditional idea of philanthropy or business strategies focused on "doing-no-harm". These notions have been replaced by the concept of "doing good by doing well". At enterprise level, this translates into responsible business practices which are not only in compliance with national regulations and voluntary norms, but which also result in community investment, entrepreneurship, employment, human capital development, and, crucially, the observance of human rights. In this respect, UNWTO promotes and advises on CSR in such a way that closely resembles "due diligence" advising.
TW: Is the "World Committee on Tourism Ethics" a suitable mechanism to safeguard human rights in tourism and to take the perspectives of people affected by tourism in the destinations seriously? How does it work?
Taleb Rifai: The World Committee on Tourism Ethics was established by the UNWTO General Assembly to promote the Code of Ethics, monitor its implementation and settle any disputes that may arise. The Committee consists of seven members, from the public and private sector, elected by Member States and territories; and four affiliate members who represent employers' and employees' associations, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations. Its members are drawn from across the globe, ensuring that all regions are represented. The Committee reports directly to the UNWTO General Assembly on the implementation of the Code of Ethics, and regularly to the UN General Assembly.
The Committee is not an all-encompassing mechanism meant to safeguard human rights on its own. Instead, it is an advisory body which analyses ethical concerns and seeks to raise awareness on the principles of the Code and encourage their implementation, with a view to developing sustainable, responsible, and above all, respectful tourism.
Since 2004 the Committee has discussed a wide array of ethical issues, such as solidarity in tourism in the case of natural disasters, HIV-related travel restrictions, accessible tourism for people with disabilities, the protection of children against all forms of exploitation in tourism, the economic empowerment of women through tourism, the ethical aspects of the impact of the global economic crisis and of H1N1 influenza on the sector and so on. The Committee also includes the possibility for individual stakeholders to consult it on specific ethical issues directly related to tourism.
* Alles was Recht ist - Menschenrechte und Tourismus. Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED) Tourism Watch, Bonn, 2011. English summary: http://tourism-watch.de/files/eed_tourism_human_rights_shortversion_2011_en.pdf