Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Virgin Holidays

  This submission seeks to provide evidence relevant to questions 1,4 and 5 of the committee's framework.

  Part of the Virgin Travel Group and with Virgin Atlantic as its parent company, Virgin Holidays is a tour operator selling package holidays from the UK to long haul destinations worldwide. Approximately 350,000 customers per year are carried, principally to Florida and the Caribbean, but also increasingly, to destinations including Dubai, Mauritius, South and East Africa, India and the Far East. The company has been operating since 1985

  1.How do the activities of UK businesses affect human rights both positively and negatively?

  Virgin Holidays aims to have a positive impact on the communities in the destinations in which we operate, both the UK and overseas. In the UK the company has a programme of local charitable support, and also allows staff paid time off to volunteer in the community. Awareness of employment legislation is kept up to date and of course adhered to, however Virgin Holidays aims to go beyond this, particularly in the areas of staff training and development, work/life balance and internal communications to ensure it lives up to its reputation as an exemplary employer.

  Overseas the company has various initiatives in place to reduce poverty and empower individuals and communities in holiday destinations. These include:

    — the funding of an annual university degree scholarship for up to four Caribbean students per year to study tourism management, to empower young Caribbean nationals to be able to take a leading role in shaping the future development of tourism in the region;

    — an "agro-tourism" linkages programme operating in St Lucia and Jamaica, in conjunction with UK development charity, Oxfam, to boost the capacity and incomes of local farmers and provide a willing market for their produce amongst hotels on the islands;

    — support for a school of entrepreneurship in Johannesburg South Africa, established to provide youth from Soweto and other townships with the opportunity to build a better future for themselves;

    — support for a ticketing system for tourist tribal village visits in Kenya, designed to ensure the local Masaai population receive maximum financial benefit from tourist visits;

    — Virgin Holidays has also adopted the Travelife system of auditing hotel suppliers for sustainability. This system assesses environmental impact, staff management, labour relations and local community integration. Virgin Holidays is engaged in rolling out a hotel sustainability auditing programme, utilising the Travelife system worldwide. The company's target is for 51% of featured hotels to be visited and sustainability audited by March 2010. With the aim for all hotels contracted to be engaged with the Travelife scheme by 2013; and

    — in addition, Virgin Holidays is the only mainstream UK tour operator to include a charity donation (of 50p per adult, 25p per child) in the price of every holiday sold. Initially the funds raised from this scheme were donated to the charity Tourism Concern—who campaign for human rights in tourism. Since 2007, however, this has changed to benefit The Travel Foundation—an organisation with a broader sustainable tourism remit and more relevant to Virgin Holidays' activities (with a Tourism Concern representative on the Board). The scheme raised approx £150,000 for the Travel Foundation (on top of Virgin Holidays' own corporate donations) in the 2008-9 financial year.

4.  Does the UK Government give adequate guidance to UK businesses to allow them to understand and support the human rights obligations of the UK? If not, who should provide this guidance?

  Virgin Holidays would welcome a collaborative approach and to that end, would be keen to have further advice and support to allow us to better understand our human rights obligations.

5.  What role, if any, should be played by individual Government departments or the National Human Rights Institutions of the UK?

  Providing clarity on the extent of responsibility would be useful, as would guidance for those businesses not merely wishing to comply, but to go further in ensuring human rights are respected. The impact of British industry should be looked at as a whole, rather than just by sector to build up a cumulative picture of involvement. For example, Virgin Holidays will buy hotel rooms from suppliers and, as mentioned in answer to question 1 it aims to ensure suppliers do not abuse the human rights of their employees or the local community. However, Virgin Holidays does not own hotels, it merely buys and sells hotel rooms. Thus, it can't easily establish that abuses were not taking place during hotel construction. Tour operator involvement typically commences when a property is complete—often many years after completion.

  Where hotel construction issues impact the human rights of local communities, again due to Virgin Holidays lack of involvement in this stage, in common with other UK tour operators it relies on information from NGO's such as Tourism Concern, who campaign on human rights and tourism to raise awareness of particular issues. This organisation has been effective in raising tourism related human rights abuse issues amongst tour operators in the UK—their longstanding campaign against tourism to Burma is an example. However they are heavily underfunded and would benefit from government or other agency support.

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Prepared 16 December 2009