Applying sustainable employment principles in the tourism industry : righting human rights wrongs?

Baum, Tom and Nguyen, Hai Thi Thanh (2019) Applying sustainable employment principles in the tourism industry : righting human rights wrongs? Tourism Recreation Research, 44 (3). pp. 371-381. ISSN 0250-8281 (

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This paper argues that issues of employment in tourism raise fundamental concerns in the context of basic human rights. Such rights lie at the heart of intentions within the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which advocates “full and productive employment and decent work for all”. This paper contends that concerns relating to tourism employment, therefore, lie at the heart of the sustainability debate within international tourism. At a time of sustained growth in demand for tourism worldwide, the industry faces persistent challenges with respect to employment, highlighted, inter alia, with respect to low pay, precarious security, poor working conditions, high labour turnover, intersectional disadvantage, occupational ghettoization and employee sexual and physical abuse that can represent modern slavery. These issues appear to be systemic, structural and universal across all countries and within both formal and informal economies. In this paper we assess these issues from a human rights perspective at three levels, the individual employee, their family and their community. We then consider whether a sustainability-informed approach to tourism employment can mediate potential human rights violations, building on the ethical case proposed by notions of sustainable HRM. Conclusions are reached which place clear responsibility for change with governments through legislation and enforced regulation; private sector employers; and consumers.