Symposium 2020 Documentation



28 SEPTEMBER 2020, 10:00 AM - 04:15 PM CEST

Once a year, the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism organises an international symposium at which industry stakeholders discuss current issues in tourism and their interdependency with human rights. This year’s  online event focused on the connection between COVID-19 and human rights, and the relevance of human rights impact assessments in the tourism value chain.

About 100 participants from more than 20 countries came together on 28 September 2020. The day was moderated by Swiss Radio SRF journalist Klaus Ammann.



In her opening speech, Antje Monshausen, Chair of the Roundtable, Policy Advisor for Tourism and Development at Bread for the World and Head of Tourism Watch spoke from the heart of the participants when she made clear how unprepared and brutal the crisis has hit the entire industry. She highlighted that the crisis amplifies existing challenges around human rights. The concept of resilience has been established as a key strategy for the rehabilitation of the ailing sector. Monshausen described that the core elements of resilient businesses and supply chains build on the same principles as respecting human rights: trust, cooperation and networks as well as sustainability. Businesses who assess, rethink and adjust with regard to these principles will be better prepared for new challenges.

We have to build back better. A fresh start in tourism is not possible without sustainability, human rights and resilient networks. The work of the Roundtable and its members is therefore an essential prerequisite for ensuring that tourism after the crisis is better than tourism before the crisis.

View Antje's presentation with her speech here

The moderator Klaus Ammann,Deputy Head of Business Editorial Department at Radio SRF, welcomed the participants and introduced the agenda before he was leading through the day. 

Watch his introdcution here

Human Rights & Covid 19 - What Does it Mean for Tourism?


Archita Faustmann, Human Rights Specialist from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, gave an Overview of Business and Human Rights actions worldwide. She explained that the increasing steps on business and human rights have its origin in the adaption of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which comprises 31 points and is built on three pillars: state duty to protect, the corporate responsibility to respect and access to remedy. All state actions, as well as actions of private sector and civil society, have human rights due diligence as a central reference point when they talk about business and human rights. After presenting various key actions from different countries, she said:

"The momentum on business and human rights is building upon all, there is no going back. Conducting human rights due diligence and impact assessments is continuously becoming an integrated part of conducting business worldwide, and it will only strengthen in upcoming years.

Watch Archita's input here

Download the presentation


Remy Friedmann, Senior Advisor Desk Human Security and Business from Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Switzerland (FDFA) talked about Switzerland’s Commitment to Human Rights and new Challenges with regard to Covid-19. He stated that business and human rights is very high on the agenda and that the Swiss government has developed several tools to address human rights issues, such as a national action plan (NAP) in 2016. It contains 35 concrete measures that the federal administration has already taken or is currently implementing. Switzerland has supported the development of an HRIA on Tourism in Thailand and Myanmar through the Roundtable and focusright, and is in a dialogue with Thailand (and other countries) in the context of respective NAPs. Friedmann was sure:

To build back better there needs to be coordination with the evolvement of the private sector”.

Switzerland has joined forces with several countries for a UN General Assembly resolution for “Global solidarity in the fight against Covid-19”. Friedmann pointed out that this resolution, co-signed by 188 states, should be propagated as an expression of the unity of the community of states and there is a need to cooperate internationally.

Watch Rémy's input here

Download the presentation

The Value of Assessing Social Impacts in the Tourism Value Chain


The Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) in Thailand and Myanmar in 2019. The project set-up, findings and learnings were presented by Matthias Leisinger, Co-Founder and CEO of focusright, Tony Reyhanloo, Sustainability Manager at DER Touristik Suisse and the Coordinator of the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism, Jara Schreiber.

The idea of the project was to develop a step-by-step guidance to support small and medium-sized tour operators to assess human rights impacts in their value chain.

Matthias Leisinger explained the methodology for an HRIA with a focus on the tourism value chain, showed the different phases of the process and pointed out the vast stakeholder engagement of the conducted project. He specifically made clear that a particular focus should lie on informal tourism workers and vulnerable groups, as these are the ones often left behind.

The goal of such as assessment is to talk to rightsholders, to go into the destination and seek to understand on one hand the negative impacts tourism can have and also to realise what positive impacts tourism can have.

Tony Reyhanloo shared his main learnings from a tour operator perspective:

You are giving everyone a voice, especially those who would usually not be heard, you get the full picture and interlinkages how human rights affect all stakeholders within tourism, and it really creates synergies, because every stakeholder leaves their own tunnel vision and understands their part as a puzzle piece within the larger picture – for me, that’s key to address the complexity of human rights truly”.

Reyhanloo also didn’t want to leave out the flipside of the coin: there are many good initiatives that are not bundled and therefore have less power, and there is no one-fits-all-solution. Also, an HRIA is time- and resource consuming – it was helpful to cooperate with others and join forces even as a big tour operator.

Jara Schreiber introduced the “Get started” tool for tourism stakeholders that is freely available on the Roundtable website. Tourism businesses often face the issue of not knowing where to start when analysing the human rights risks in their complex value chain. Connecting information about human rights risks with the individual tourism value chain is a helping start for the desk research of tourism businesses aiming to work on their due diligence. Schreiber invited stakeholders to consult the Roundtable with questions regarding the organisation, planning and conduction of an impact assessment: “We are delighted to help and to get in contact with you”.

Watch the HRIA project input her

Download Matthias' presentation
Download Jara's presentation

All details about the assessment can be found in the report.
Find the "Get Started Tool" here

Video Statements

In three short video snapshots, affected tourism-representatives from Myanmar and Thailand explained how COVID-19 has changed their living and working conditions as well as the human rights situation in the country in general.

Mr Tin Aung is an independent tour guide from Myanmar. 

Watch his statement here.

Mr Htoo Chit is Executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) in Thailand.

Watch his statement here.

Ms Ma Ohnmar Myo is Secretary General at ICOMOS Myanmar, and works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places like Bagan.

Watch her statement here.

Panel Discussion

Panel discussion "How to create social benefit and resilience beyond the crisis as tourism"

The panelists talked about priorities, people, rebuilding and reliance. The situation is difficult for everyone.

Ulrike Braun, Director Corporate Responsibility, DER Touristik Group, gave a short insight into the everyday-life with short-time work, postponed projects and new priorities.
I think it is helpful to have a more strategic perspective at the moment to plan for the restart. However the most important for the industry at the moment is to stabilise and to get profitable again, because as a company you can only work on sustainability and be sustainable if you have a healthy business.”

Win Min, Senior Programme Associate, Myanmar Center for Responsible Business, reported especially about the more and more precarious situation of migrant workers and the lack of governmental protection for them under COVID-19. He has also called to always engage at the local level, for example, buying locally, working with local groves, sharing knowledge on sustainability and human rights.

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator/Founder, ALTSEAN, stressed the influence tourism companies can have in Thailand and Myanmar to address the tightening human rights situation. “If we want to look at building resilience we need to address all gaps that have been intensified because of COVID…Western Companies (…) have been trying to look at how to address resilience at the micro-level at the value chain. But because of the influence, they have both in Thailand and Myanmar and the region generally we need to do policy advocacy to address the macro problems. Because the micro resilience is not going to be good enough to address these fundamental macro problems”. She appealed to the tourism industry to do the advocacy together.

Peter-Mario Kubsch, Managing Director, Studiosus Reisen, stated that a single tour operator cannot do that much. But that was exactly the reason why the Roundtable was founded - to make the leverage with combined forces much stronger than a single tour operator. 
With participants from the audience was discussed the question of how conscientiousness, social aspects and quality tourism will prevail after the crisis, especially when destinations are in financial difficulties.

Every crisis has its opportunities. What is your call regarding this one?

  • Debbie Stothard: "The chance is to use our collective voices for the greater good. Without the greater good, this industry will not survive."
  • Ulrike Braun: "There is a change to have a better perspective in tourism on quality tourism and valuing travelling after the crises."
  • Peter-Mario Kubsch: "Join the Roundtable and lets work together on the improvement of human rights in tourism."
  • Win Min: "Using collective voice and change it into a changed and sustainable development that we like to see."

Watch the panel discussion here

Breakout Sessions

Breakout Sessions: What tourism stakeholders can do to improve the human rights situation in the supply chain

Five different breakout sessions were taking place simultaneously, to discuss in more detail on various aspects with regard to human rights due diligence in the tourism value chain.

To protect the privacy of the participants and to provide them with a safe space for free discussion and exchange of personal experiences, the breakout sessions were not recorded. You can watch the summaries of the sessions below. 

Room 1 – How to support local communities to become resilient
Sumesh Mangalasseri, practitioner, campaigner, researcher and founder of Kabani and Tony Reyhanloo, Sustainability Manager, DER Touristik Suisse talked with their group about the need of a strategy of diversification for various income opportunities, participation of destination communities and various aspects of tourism, like making decisions, managing tourism and implementation. One solution might be to develop new tourism products that can address local markets instead of being heavily independent of international tourism. Those products could be linked to traditional sectors to give communities more resilience. There was also the suggestion of a tourism tax that could be used for the welfare of most marginalised communities. The discussion concluded with the question, how niche or resilience programmes could be integrated into major tourism policies. In general, working towards better tourism policies is of high importance.

Watch the summary of Room 1 here

Download Sumesh's presentation

Download discussion results

Room 2 – How to ensure economic inclusion of the informal sector
Win Min, Senior Programme Associate, Myanmar Center for Responsible Business discussed with his group the option to start developing inclusive policies or strategies with the support of international funds, agencies or countries coordination. This would help to improve the legal framework, support the informal focus and ensure revenues and resources. Furthermore, it could be a big chance for the private sector to integrate new projects or products in cooperation with local tour operators and to make full use of local expertise, local culture and local resources.

Watch the summary of Room 2 here

Download discussion results

Room 3 – How to deal with harassment and discrimination of female workers
Debbie Stothard, Coordinator/Founder, ALTSEAN
and Matthias Leisinger, Co-Founder and CEO, focusright discussed the findings of the HRIA connected to women’s rights and possible solutions. Even though Thailand has a more prominent reputation as a sex destination, the phenomenon of victim-blaming is widespread in Myanmar, which makes women not talk about harassment. Besides the constant need to raise awareness, a low hanging fruit is integrating policies regarding harassment and discrimination into existing certification schemes. Furthermore, broad ratification of the ILO convention C190 should be supported.

Watch the summary of Room 3 here

Download Debbie's presentation
Download Matthias' presentation


Download discussion results

Room 4 – How to approach tourism-related human rights violations on the doorstep – discussing case studies from Europe
The discussion of Nina Sahdeva Ndotoni, Editorial work and education, akte - Working Group on Tourism and Development and her group was centred around working conditions and discrimination, focusing on chambermaids and cruise-staff. It is needed to put pressure on the European Union to have legal regulations controls and sanctions to regulate lousy working conditions and divide work fair instead of lay off. Furthermore, low complain mechanisms should be in place. Another option would be to create a fund (e.g. like the one for the agricultural sector in Switzerland).

Watch the summary of Room 4 here

Download discussion results

Room 5 – How to improve conditions for migrant workers and prevent modern slavery, and why it is relevant for investors relations
Andy Hall, Migrant Work Specialist and Activist and Antje Monshausen, Chair of the Roundtable, Policy Advisor for Tourism and Development at Bread for the World and Head of Tourism Watch looked with their group at issues around the frequent outsourcing and subcontracting of (migrant) workers by the major actors and recruitment agencies happening in the tourism industry. This massively fuels the great danger of modern slavery. It seems to be a problem that there is no ethical recruitment and that migrant workers often have to pay fees to have a job in the first place. Methods of certification, auditing and whistleblowing policies need to change drastically to build trust that any mechanism brings attention to the exploitation of workers.

Watch the summary of Room 5 here

Download the presentation

Download discussion results


Bruno Bisig, General Manager, Kontiki Reisen, part of DER Touristik Suisse and Co-Chair of the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism closed the event with the following words:

We should use this stakeholder engagement (that we have seen and heard today) for the future to have more power for human rights in tourism worldwide. We might do this for ourselves, we might do this for our companies, but definitely, we do this for our children and our children’s children. Thank you so much for empowering each other. Feel free to consult the Roundtable. That is exactly what we want –to bring stakeholder together.”

Further information

If you participated in our Symposium, we would like to ask you to evaluate the event. This helps us to improve and plan further events and workshops.  

Please write your comments and remarks in the following padlet board:

Thank you very much!