All things legal! Human rights in tourism

Human rights form an essential basis of any sustainable development approach - including tourism development. Respecting and protecting human rights is not at odds with economic success, but is a prerequisite for fair, durable and sustainable development.

The international human rights framework

Over 70 years ago, in 1948, the fundamental rights and freedoms of all human beings were established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ILO core labour standards and other conventions, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are highly relevant to tourism. Unfortunately, human rights violations in tourism are the order of the day. Be it through exploitative working conditions in hotels, restaurants or on construction sites, the expulsion of entire communities for the construction of airports and hotels, or the lack of protection of children from sexual exploitation by travellers and tourists. It is the task of all states to implement internationally binding human rights and to convert them into national laws in order to protect their citizens.

Rights for people, rules for companies

Companies must also respect human rights – not only within their own company, but also in cooperation with all their service providers and business partners. Respect for human rights is not a passive task, but an active obligation: companies must do everything they can to ensure that their business activities do not violate any human rights. Should this happen, they must give victims of human rights violations access to compensation.

The Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism is an international, non-profit multi-stakeholder initiative bringing together tour operators, NGOs, travel associations and other specialised tourism organisations from different European countries. The members have been pushing for the implementation and application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The chairmanship of the board of this international NGO is currently in the hands of Tourism Watch.

Tourism Watch demands:

  • Respect for human rights in tourism must be recognised by the United Nations as a specific task. In particular, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) should be obliged to report regularly to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in tourism.
  • The German Federal Government must close the loopholes in the regulations regarding human rights protection and corporate responsibility by introducing liability and reporting obligations for companies and by giving those affected by human rights violations committed by German companies access to complaint procedures and German courts.
  • Governments in tourism destinations must enact the necessary laws, regulations and planning provisions and monitor their implementation to ensure that no human rights violations occur in the course of tourism development.
  • It is the responsibility of tour operators to respect human rights and implement a corporate policy that prevents human rights violations along the entire value chain.
  • National and international hotel and tourism associations should create incentives and sanctions to ensure that their members meet and develop human rights standards.
  • Investors must carry out independent social, environmental and human rights impact assessments to rule out negative impacts of their projects on human rights, and provide transparent information about them.
  • Where states fail to protect human rights and companies fail to exercise due diligence, non-governmental organizations must demand compliance with human rights and — in consultation with those affected by human rights violations — increase pressure on those responsible to ensure that human rights are effectively implemented.
  • Travellers must not become accomplices in human rights violations. Human rights are civil rights, but also civil duties.

About the topic

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