July 21, 2012
It had been a bad year for the Hilton chain. In June 2010, a flagship Hilton hotel in Chongqing, China, lost its top-notch rating after being completely shut down by the police. In their press release, the police described a “complete chain” of hotel staff involved in prostitution, including hotel managers, security guards, luggage carriers, receptionists and staff.
Later that fall, two women were arrested in Limerick, Ireland, for running a brothel out of another Hilton hotel. The chain was severely embarrassed by both episodes and announced plans to roll out an internal code of conduct to prevent child sex-trafficking. Many onlookers, though, believed the chain was taking too long to instate preventative measures to stop future activity and to sign an international code to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.
One such observer was Avaaz.org. Avaaz is a petition-building website and launching pad for activist organizing. They bring what they call "people-powered politics" to decision-making worldwide.
Avaaz took up the Hilton case and began a petition in October 2010. Thanks to the power of social media, within a very short time the website had collected 317,000 signatures for a petition that called on the Hilton CEO, Chris Nassetta, to sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism. To give the petition teeth, the campaign came with a threat: Sign the code, or the group would take out ads in Nassetta’s hometown newspaper telling him to do so (paid for by donations from signers). Twenty-four hours later, Avaaz got a frantic call from Hilton’s vice president. Within the week, Nassetta had signed on. As a result, 140,000 employees in 3,800 hotels worldwide are being trained to detect, report and assist girls and women forced into the sex industry.