Hilton: Combating Human Trafficking
in the Hospitality Industry

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The case

hiltonWho – the protagonist

Maxime Verstaete, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc (Hilton).


Hilton is a global hospitality company with more than 360,000 team members working on its behalf around the world.

As of December 2017, Hilton boasted a portfolio of 14 brands comprising more than 5,284 properties with nearly 856,000 rooms.


Hilton manages an increasingly diverse portfolio of brands, with a majority of franchised operations, across half of the globe, and with the most recognized brand in the industry.

Meanwhile, Maxime was responsible for all of Hilton’s corporate responsibilities, which included youth initiatives and human rights endeavours.

Maxime was particularly worried about one issue – how the company would deal with questions of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the hospitality industry.


It was in early summer 2018 when Maxime was considering the best way forward for Hilton’s corporate responsibility.


Hilton is a truly global brand, located in 105 countries and territories. In 2017, it welcomed 160 million guests.

hiltonKey quote

“According to the ILO, some 16 million persons worldwide were held as victims of forced labor exploitation in economic activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing.” – a harrowing statistic outlined in the case.

What next?

Maxime had a lot to ponder.
What were the most important issues to tackle first, and what decisions would be made about them? How could Hilton sustain momentum in its anti-trafficking efforts and align its policies across all company functions?

This was just the tip of the iceberg.

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Hilton: Combating Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry
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Teaching note
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The authors

David Nersessian

David discusses the tough subject of human trafficking, producing a short case and scholarship help.

Addressing the tough issues

David said: “Human trafficking and modern slavery are difficult subjects that unfortunately are part of the modern business reality.

“At both operational and strategic levels, any company with a supply chain needs to genuinely consider how trafficking impacts their business. Certain laws in the UK (Modern Slavery Act) and some US jurisdictions (e.g. California Transparency in Supply Chains Act) require companies of a certain size to publicly disclose how they are addressing trafficking in their supply chains. 

“Apart from that, trafficking presents a considerable enterprise risk to manage: in addition to legal liability, the potential for reputational damage is significant if a company’s own operations – or even those of its vendors or suppliers – involve human trafficking, even if the company was unaware of it beforehand. 

“Trafficking also links to many complex and important social issues, and thus also provides opportunities for considering larger questions of business and society.”

Attention to detail

David continued: “Many teaching materials on human rights and business focus at a level of generality. In implementation, human rights can easily become something that companies honour in words but not deeds (at least, until a breach occurs, and the company’s reputation is on the block). 

“I felt it would be helpful to provide a perspective on how one company in one industry is actually engaging with human rights issues in its strategy, operations, and management of legal and reputational risk. This then can be used to draw wider lessons for other industries and other types of human rights, as well as broader inquiries into operationalising corporate ethics and values.”

Keeping it simple

He commented: “This subject can be overwhelming for students, so the idea was to set out a relatively simple case that instructors could supplement with other materials.

“The case can be used, for example, as an ethics-focused module, to consider how values impact corporate strategy or a company’s supply chain. Or as an example of reputational risk, focusing on prevention and how to respond if things go wrong.

“Instructors can build upon prior materials and discussions in a given course or bring in entirely new material, depending on what they want to emphasise and the approach they wish to take.  A variety of primary materials are included as appendices, which provides instructors with a starting point for customising the case for their particular area of interest.”

Helping handHelping hand

David concluded: “The scholarship was a huge help. Even with a first-rate collaborator like Hilton, field research still involves a great deal of logistical, travel, and similar incidental expenses, which can make this type of research more challenging to pursue than other types of scholarship." 

“The Case Centre’s support was most welcome and certainly has encouraged me to write more cases.”

About the author

David Nersessian is an Associate Professor at Babson College.
e dnersessian1@babson.edu


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