Ethical considerations

There is much ambiguity about the ethical issues involved in travelling responsibly around the world and the extent to which companies have used the expressions ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’, ‘fair’ etc as part of their marketing plan. What is clear is that all of us, whether gap year travellers, business people or tourists, have an obligation to be aware of, amongst many other things:

  • The effect on the local communities
  • Respecting local customs and cultures
  • The sustainability of the projects we are involved in
  • Conservation of the environment
As an example, there are concerns about 'Voluntourism' i.e. the extent to which short term volunteering on projects, which may not be sustainable and do not sufficiently involve the local community, are justifiable. It is linked to the 'benefit balance' - who should benefit most, the volunteer or the receiving organisation? This debate has raised significant questions, but should not deter willing volunteers for whom their first short-term experience could lead to a life-time of meaningful volunteering.

An example of a gap year company with an ethical mission is The Ethical Project Company: www.theethicalprojectcompany.com . As such it states that:

  • As an organisation we aim to be as ethical as possible and are run on the principles of fair trade and sustainability. We want to have a positive impact on the country we visit in every aspect.
  • Firstly this means we try to add as much as possible to the local economy of the places we visit. We do this by paying a fair wage to people for as many services as possible.
  • We only use locally owned and run services e.g. hotels or tours
  • We make sure we are not damaging the environment or exploiting the local people.
  • Any visits to villages are organised by members of that village so that they can put their profits back into their village and also decide what we should do.
  • The guides we use are local people who can tell you about the destination from the background of someone living there.
  • The projects are in schools where your presence will make a real difference.
  • We also want you to learn as much as possible while on the projects and we do this by teaching the basics of the language and holding other talks on culture.
  • Some of the money you put towards your project will go towards buying supplies for the school that you can buy and hand over.
  • Group sizes are kept to a maximum of 15 to reduce the impact on the destination.
  • In order to be sustainable as a company we maintain a green policy in the office.
  • Although this is not a total compensation, we try to offset the amount of green house gas released due to your flight by paying for reforestation. While in the country we also try to use public transport as much as possible.

You could use these statements to ask questions about any organization you choose to go with. If you DIY, then all the research and responsibility is down to you, based on your experience of travel, self-confidence, safety considerations etc.  Have a look at these websites to for further information on ethical issues: http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/

http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/

http://www.gapyearresearch.org/

Additional information

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Year Out GroupInter HealthBeta Outbound TravelFuturewise Fair