Traveller Safety and Employer Duty of Care
We recently unveiled the results of our latest research at the Quaynote Duty of Care Conference- protecting workers travelling overseas, in London.
In preparation for the conference we conducted independent research into the issues faced by women travellers and what their employers are doing to ensure their safety when travelling on business. As part of the research we interviewed kidnap & ransom experts, Insurers, the Metropolitan and British Transport Police, hoteliers, market leaders in travel risk management, employment lawyers, employers and of course many of our members, women who travel frequently on business.
We also ran a survey to get feedback from women travellers, with quite startling findings:
31% said their employer didn't adequately take care of them
Only 5% had received female business traveller safety training
When asked if they had ever suffered an adverse situation when travelling on business such as theft, robbery, physical assault, sexual harassment, or attack, kidnap, attempted kidnap, intruder in your hotel room etc
A staggering 24% said yes.
And whilst a number of these took place in locations such as Egypt, Karachi, Lahore, Nairobi, Beijing and Johannesburg, cities that are deemed potentially more safe, such as Dublin, Southampton and Zurich, were also cited as cities where travel problems had occurred.
When asked where they felt the most vulnerable, 67% said they were uncomfortable on public transport and the same for walking about in a strange city. 55% of respondents said they didn’t feel safe alone in a cab and 51% of women felt vulnerable during a hotel stay alone, with one woman even feeling the need to supplement her hotel costs with her own money to afford a safer place to stay.
Why this is important for employers
Aside from an employer’s obligation of a duty of care to employees if the worst happens, companies can find themselves liable for a claim for damages or indeed corporate manslaughter.
But on a more general level, we all know that a diverse workforce leads to greater organisational success.
If not managed properly, business travel related stress and anxiety induced absence can present significant cost to an organisation
The last thing an organisation needs is to be in a position whereby women can't physically perform the same task as men because it's not safe for them to travel or worse they don't even apply to work with an organisation they don't want to travel for due to their poor reputation of employee safety.
But what about Gender equality?
You are probably asking yourself if it’s appropriate to have gender specific travel policies. Whilst it may be unnecessary for any group to have a full-blown travel policy we do believe that there should be specific clauses pertaining to different groups, be it women, LGBT’s, expats and trailing spouses.
There is the obvious risk of women being more prone to sexual attack or harassment but we are also often less physically strong than our male counterparts which by nature attracts gentlemen, well-meaning or otherwise to offer assistance with our heavy bags. We are hardwired to be polite and this can easily get lead us into hot water. It’s important to remember that manners should come second to personal safety.
Drink spiking doesn’t just happen in nightclubs at 2am, any drink can be spiked at any time of the day.
Handbag theft is prevalent and could lead to loss of our travel documents and communications devices leaving us at further risk.
The good news is that women are often thinking and planning ahead because of safety concerns, which means we are constantly on our guard when travelling.
Generic travel advice leaves out important considerations for women travellers
Some restrictions are legal, whilst others are cultural
- e.g. local dress codes
- It’s illegal for a woman to drive in Saudi Arabia
- Travelling with a man who is not her husband can lead to her arrest
- Until recently, women faced the risk of being de-robed for wearing trousers in Malawi
- Initiating a handshake or making eye contact could be misinterpreted as flirtatious or indeed deeply offensive in the Arabian Gulf
- Reporting a sexual assault in UAE could result in a woman being at risk of being charged with unlawful sex
- Inadvertently taking a copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine into Iran could land her with a sentence of lashings
Here are some of the tips we shared to enable women to protect themselves when travelling alone.
- Pre-planning. Research the region you are travelling to from a female perspective
- Wear a wedding ring where appropriate
- Understand local dress codes, does your company need to stock and supply an abaya for example.
- Use a female friendly hotel and only use hotels where there are two independent locks that cannot be overridden with a master key
- Make sure drivers have corresponding paperwork, not just easy copiable name plates
- Undertake a female traveller safety training programme
The predominantly male audience found the female specific issues to be both enlightening and interesting. For many there was a visible sigh of relief. Many felt that they should indeed be doing something extra for their female travellers but were nervous of being deemed sexist, patronising or were simply too shy or embarrassed to talk about “sex”.
Sharing these findings and advice is not to be restrictive but to empower, inform and liberate women to travel on business safely.
Our female business traveller safety survey remains open if you wish to participate please click here.
Read more about our Female Business Traveller Safety Training.