100 Years of Human Rights: Hilton-ILO Dialogue
In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles established the International Labour Organization (ILO). This United Nations agency was founded on the belief that social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights are essential to lasting peace. The same year, Conrad Hilton founded what would become the most iconic hotel company in the world, believing in the power of international travel and trade to foster world peace.
One hundred years on, both institutions are celebrating a century of progress and positive impacts. On International Human Rights Day, Adam Greene (AG), Senior Advisor at ILO’s Bureau for Employers' Activities and Caroline Meledo (CM), Director for Corporate Responsibility & Human Rights at Hilton, discussed the lessons learned by their respective organizations and their outlook for the next 100 years.
100 years ago, the world was at a very different place, waking up from World War I. What was the context for the birth of your organizations?
AG: Right after World War I, unrest was widespread in Europe with protests against harsh living and working conditions. The ILO was created with the objective to bring people together and foster understanding so that they wouldn’t fight in the streets and destabilize societies. Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the ILO’s vision to bring employers and workers to the table to write labor laws was a “wild dream.” This model has proven resilient though. This is one of the only international organizations from the 20s that survived the Great Depression and World War II, alongside the International Organization of Employers and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). In fact, the ICC called themselves the “merchants of peace” which is quite fitting to the time.
CM: It’s a striking parallel to Conrad Hilton’s own vision and journey. He believed in the power of travel to foster peace through dialogue and understanding. He bought his first hotel in 1919, growing to 15 properties by 1929. He lost nearly everything during the Great Depression but one hotel. He said that “to achieve big things, we first need to dream big dreams.” His venture not only survived, but thrived to become a global hospitality icon.
Today is International Human Rights Day. How have the ILO and Hilton approached business and human rights over the years?
AG: The ILO was a pioneer in business and human rights even before it was defined as such. It adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944, which in many ways inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work became the labor principles of the UN Global Compact and are integrated into the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, both of which define the field today.
CM: In the last 100 years, Hilton has employed 10 million people and welcomed more than 3 billion guests. As an organization of people serving people and doing so at such a scale, respecting human rights is not an option — it is an imperative. Hilton has been a pioneer in the industry. We were one of the first to sign the ECPAT Code to fight sexual exploitation in tourism back in 2011 and joined the UN Global Compact around the same time. And we’ve been providing related training to our Team Members ever since. In 2014, we conducted a comprehensive human rights impact assessment to develop a global strategy in line with the UN Guiding Principles, looking at human rights topics across operations, supply chain and the development phase of our hotels.
What is the role of cross-sector collaboration in efforts to advance human rights?
AG: The ILO was primarily founded to develop standards to define rights at work. In the 60s and 70s there was a shift towards implementation, providing governments with the capacity building and support they needed to adapt their regulatory frameworks. Interestingly, there was little direct engagement with companies originally — it was all done through employers’ organizations. This started to change 5-10 years ago, when the ILO realized there was a huge opportunity to leverage engagement with companies that are working in the same direction.
CM: As we developed our human rights policies and processes, we immediately saw the opportunity for industry collaboration to tackle shared human rights challenges at scale. Hilton co-founded the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and over the last three years co-created and launched the ITP Human Rights Goals and Forced Labor Principles. To accelerate the industry’s ability to implement those principles, we donated our training “Risks of Modern Slavery in Labor Sourcing” — a first in our industry — to the ITP. That resource is now available to all for free.
Hilton and the ILO are collaborating in Qatar to advance safe and ethical recruitment and employment for migrant workers. What are the ingredients for success?
AG: The collaboration with the hospitality industry is part of ILO’s technical cooperation with the State of Qatar for worker welfare. We have the perfect combination of a committed government to make meaningful policy changes and a dynamic and engaged sector to provide input about what they see on the ground to feed into policy making.
CM: The Qatar collaboration is a great example of the hotel industry bringing shared commitments to life in a practical way. We’ve been sharing our best practices for ethical recruitment, due diligence of labor agencies and auditing of outsourcing agencies. With a collective voice in the market, the support of the government to enforce the laws and the advice and support from the ILO, we can collectively make a change for safe migration.
If we met again on December 10, 2119, 100 years from now, what would be the state of play for human rights?
AG: I am extremely hopeful. If you consider how much the world has progressed over the past century, with billions of people lifted out of poverty, life expectancy extended and increased access to education, then there is no reason to think that progress won’t continue. The challenges I can see that we need to collectively address would be 1) implementation of the ILO standards, which requires more cross-industry collaboration and 2) adapting to the Future of Work with ever-evolving skills needs.
CM: I’m optimistic that the Golden Age of travel we currently live will only grow over the next century. And with it, countries, companies and people will be brought closer together. To ensure these connections foster social justice, I believe human rights will increasingly be a foundational part of all related agreements — this I see as both a challenge and an opportunity for us to collectively tackle in years to come.
Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 18 world-class brands comprising more than 6,700 properties and more than 1 million rooms, in 122 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its founding vision to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, Hilton has welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its more than 100-year history, earned a top spot on the 2021 World’s Best Workplaces list, and been recognized as a global leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for five consecutive years. In 2020, Hilton CleanStay was introduced, bringing an industry-defining standard of cleanliness to hotels worldwide. Through the award-winning guest loyalty program Hilton Honors, the nearly 123 million members who book directly with Hilton can earn Points for hotel stays and experiences money can’t buy. With the free Hilton Honors app, guests can book their stay, select their room, check in, unlock their door with a Digital Key and check out, all from their smartphone. Visit newsroom.hilton.com for more information, and connect with Hilton on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.Download Article Photos