New Fair Trade volunteer criteria launched in SA

2016-06-01 08:30 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Tourism businesses wanting to avoid the dark side of voluntourism now have a new set of guidelines to help them do exactly that.

Fair Trade Tourism says since the organisation’s initial review of its standard to include additional criteria on volunteering in 2009 there has been a significant upsurge in both the supply and demand for volunteer products in Africa, many focused on so-called conservation or orphanage programmes. 

FTT says this upsurge has brought with it concerns from various organisations regarding malpractices, which were especially evident in programmes dealing with vulnerable children and captive wildlife.

Although not an advocacy organisation, Fair Trade Tourism took the decision to work with prominent NGOs and tourism industry stakeholders to revise and implement new criteria focussed on “voluntourism” involving vulnerable people and wildlife interaction - finalising an extensive review of criteria for tourism businesses with volunteer offerings, which are effective from June 1 2016.

This comes as animals interactions with humans continue to be in the spotlight, most recently with the killing of a rare gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden causing widespread public outrage and criticism from animal rights groups. The launch of the hard-hitting documentary “Blood Lions” earlier this year and its accompanying global campaign against predator-breeding centres and interactions has also been prolific in exposing the fraudulent practices around volunteer experiences with captive lions and other predators.

"Our new criteria was not introduced to advocate for animal welfare or take an ethical position against volunteering with vulnerable people,” says Fair Trade Tourism MD Nivashnee Naidoo, “However, as an organisation that represents global best-practice in responsible tourism, it is our role and our interest to promote ethical, authentic and transparently marketed volunteer experiences,” Naidoo says.

The new Fair Trade Tourism criteria does not allow for any physical interaction by tourists or volunteers with a range of captive animals, including all large and medium sized carnivores, big cats, elephants, rhinos, large apes, hippos, ostrich, crocodiles and venomous snakes. They also do not allow for tourists or volunteers to interact with any child or vulnerable person unless this takes place under continuous, qualified adult supervision.

“Given the growing body of evidence from orphanages that interaction with casual visitors can be deeply psychologically damaging to these children, Fair Trade Tourism will not certify any volunteer experience based on full-time work inside orphanages,” says Naidoo.

Traveller24 recently caught up with wildlife conservationists, award-winning filmmakers and National Geographic explorer’s in residence Beverley and Derek Joubert, who literally have conservation driving their daily lives.  On the topic of Voluntourism, the Jourberts have added their voices to the debate, saying the industry should not be selling safaris to people to come and cuddle or to walk with lions, “There are version of volunteering that may be okay, but generally we frown on it.”

Take a look at our #INDABA2016 catch-up with the iconic couple


Fair Trade Tourism confirmed its new criteria has been informed by a range of expert sources including Better Volunteering, Tourism Watch, UNICEF, Endangered Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Act, with a number of Southern African volunteer organisations also having given their input.

The Fair Trade Voluntourism criteria is now available on its website here and volunteer organisations and wildlife sanctuaries who strive for best-practice in their operations are invited to apply for certification from June 1 2016.

What to read next on Traveller24:

- Animal Interactions: Did the US Zoo really have to kill a rare gorilla?

- Five lies you need to stop believing about the lion cub petting industry

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