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Ethical Travelling

To what extent do you consider ethics and morals when you travel?
14 years ago, December 14th 2006 No: 1 Msg: #9183  
Looking around the various forums, people are travelling all over the world to some really amazing countries. But some of the countries have er...dubious... records when it comes to things like human rights. So to what extent do you, and should we, consider a country's ethics when deciding where to go? As travellers, is it all about finding the best jungles, beaches, architecture etc, or do we have other responsibilities too?

For example, I'm thinking about Burma - amazing place, but currently has the worst human rights record on the planet. So should we be supporting the country by travelling there? (This is just a for instance) Reply to this

14 years ago, December 14th 2006 No: 2 Msg: #9194  
I did not give too much thought to the ethical issue until I stood on Tiananmen Square. Then I thought about it a lot. I think more people should think like you obviously do - at least questioning whether it is an issue for you. Far too many people don't think about the consequences of their actions - and there is no doubt that spending money in a country helps whoever is in power there.

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14 years ago, December 15th 2006 No: 3 Msg: #9204  
B Posts: 44
One great thing about travelers...we sure like to talk about what we've seen. I believe true travelers are grassroots advocates and help spread the word about what's actually happening throughout the world...as opposed to what CNN and BBC are (or aren't) showing.

And while I'm standing on the soapbox.... Check out this website about the struggle of the Penan tribe, some of the world's last nomadic people (in Borneo): Penan

Selfishness is their cardinal sin--they don't even have any words for "thank you." Truly amazing people!


~error~ private photo 175340
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14 years ago, December 15th 2006 No: 4 Msg: #9207  
I agree that it is a problem. But, then there are so many countries with dubious human rights records...

I think more to the point is to try and travel in a responsible and ethical way. Respect the cultures of the countries that you travel through and buy from local sources rather than from multinationals or governement sources. I would recomend the website of tourism concern.

It is also worth considering the environmental empact of travel. Flying around the world is not very environmentally responsible! So, a better option in terms of your carbon footprint is to try to spend as long as possible in a region. So, instead of a round the world ticket, fly to a continent and spend 6 months or a year in that continent. Say a year crossing Africa, or a year in South America. Reply to this

14 years ago, December 15th 2006 No: 5 Msg: #9208  
Stuart - I agree with you that there are many countries with dodgy human rights records. But does that mean we should just overlook it? I realise there are difficulties here - should you travel to America because of Guantanamo, for example? Not everything is black and white. I think for me I try and see whether the human rights issues are totally overwhelming, or whether there are mistakes made in an otherwise OK country.

I am completely with you in terms of the environmental impact - and I am awful at it. I fly far too often. It just happens that I work for a children's human rights charity so it's that which I'm passionate about, and I let the environment slip away from me, which is totally hypocritical! Something for me to work on there.
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14 years ago, December 15th 2006 No: 6 Msg: #9211  
Generally I would overlook the human rights record of the country. Specifically I would not travel to Burma. In Burma the democratic opposition (which actually won the elections!) has called for a boycott. Therefore the reason I would not travel to Burma is because the democratic opposition has asked tourists to refrain from visiting. If they hadn't called for a boycott then I would travel to Burma. Therefore my position is that I would travel to any country no matter what their human rights record, unless there has been a specific call to boycott that country by political forces within that country (as is the case in Burma). So, therefore the issue of the USA doesn't arise, nor for that matter the UK which has co-operated with the USA in the illegal transport of prisoners to countries where they can be tortured. Hence if I took an absolutist position I couldn't even travel to the UK, my own country! Help! I want to disown my own government which gives me the passport I travel on!
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14 years ago, December 18th 2006 No: 7 Msg: #9252  
Really? You would travel anywhere, regardless of how they treated their own people?

I totally get your point that no country is pink and fluffy - but there are also shades of grey. And where there are some like Burma, Eritrea, Zimbabwe that are perhaps blacker than most, surely you have to be aware of your responsibilities as a global citizen? Reply to this

14 years ago, December 18th 2006 No: 8 Msg: #9255  
Yes, I would travel anywhere, except when political forces within that country have asked for a boycott. (That means I won't go to Burma, until the democratic political opposition removes its request for a boycott). Otherwise there are too many countries I couldn't visit - Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, Togo... (the list would be too long, even allowing for shades of grey).

I am aware of my responsibilities as a global citizen, you will note that I am often critical of the governments of the countries that I visit. I also rewrote my Will before I left Blighty on my long wanderings around the world. My will gives leaves my money to Amnesty International should I die in my travels. Reply to this

14 years ago, December 19th 2006 No: 9 Msg: #9277  
Don't get me wrong, I'm really, really not calling you immoral or unethical or anything like that! Just interested in points of view. Reply to this

14 years ago, December 19th 2006 No: 10 Msg: #9287  
B Posts: 25
Like Stuart said, the thing is that if I had to decide which country I travel based on the the ethics of the country, I'd have to give a miss to pretty much every country.

So many countries are governed by corrupt politicians/dictators (almost all africa and the Middle East), almost all countries have violated extensively human rights (that includes north american and european countries; for example the prisonners taken by the US in the "War on Terror" and the help they received by european countries or france bombing (unilateral, and without UN approval, it must be said... but they're not the big bad US so nobody cares) of their former colonies, most recently in CAR) etc. So every euro you spend in that oh-so lovely Paris, a part of it will go in maintaining their neo-colonial empire in Africa which includes bombing of villages in parts of the country held by groups that are not liked by the big guys in Paris. Now everybody who is in Thailand is supporting a military dictatorship; one with consent of the kinds and which has succesfully given a good image of itself to the world, but a dictatorship nevertheless. Same for pretty much every country.

Maybe some will say that's an easy argument and you should go for the shades of grey that are closer to white but that's pretty much impossible to judge. Every country has done, and is doing unethical stuff.

The only place where I think not going to a country would be if it is dependant on tourism and you disagree with the government's action/mode of government. The one country that comes to mind is Cuba post Cold War. But by doing so, you remove chances of helping the people on the street, and maybe give them some news of the outside world and a different perspective on thing. And even then, I'm very doubtful that it will have any effect.

For Burma, even if the most popular democratic activist did indeed ask tourists not to go, the problem is that the government gets all the money it needs from China. If you decide not to go to Burma, you remove the chances you had of helping the extremely poor people and communicate with them. In fact, I'm sure backpackers money will go WAY more towards the locals (although the government tries hard to keep it all) than the money they get from China, which all goes to the military dictator. And guess what, everybody here buy stuff Made in China. So everytime you buy one of these products, a tiny percentage of the money will end in Burma (as well as Sudan, Zimbabwe and North Korea, among others), 100%!i(MISSING)n the hand of the dictators, whereas when you travel a sizeable percentages goes to the locals. What's worse? You be the judge. What's the point of chosing the most ethical countries if you buy stuff made in "unethical" countries?

I can understand Stuart's argument, but I think in the current geopolitical situation, going to Burma is actually more helpful for the people than for the government and thus disagree with the democratic movement boycott on tourism (a disagreement shared by many in the democratic movement there, it must be said).

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14 years ago, December 20th 2006 No: 11 Msg: #9297  
Get a grip, guys.

I agree with Victor. Travel is about travelling, not about changing the world.

While we are travelling, we may be able to have some influence by the way we behave/interact with the people we meet but it's not our responsibility to change the world. Go, enjoy and celebrate what is, where you can.

Keep in mind the things you want to change for when you get home. Then do something to make your government put pressure on the countries involved.
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14 years ago, December 20th 2006 No: 12 Msg: #9300  
I sort of agree with Victor with regard to Burma - I don't think I will be doing any good by boycotting the country. It is just that I have chosen to abide by the request to boycott Burma. Obviously, I don't travel in order to change the world and the fact is the whole of the international community is involved in atrocities and crimes against humanity. Africa is a particular example - I totally agree with Victor about the neo- colonial actions of France in its former colonies - that's why Togo had the same president for so long, and why the presidential mantle has been inherited by his son. A specific example of the crimes of the whole world community is Rwanda. Here I am going to quote from by own blog "The land of eternal Spring", for those that haven't read it.

"The whole of the international community was involved while genocide was being planned: the United Nations ... independent aid groups, and two of the most powerful international institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

...Arms, from machetes to rocket launchers, were supplied by France, South Africa, Egypt and China. The governments of both France and Egypt were intimately invovled in arms deals with the extremists in Rwanda. In order to pay for them, money was taken from funds supplied by the international financial institutions...

There is evidence that points not just to negligence , but to complicity." (Quote taken from, A people betrayed by Linda Malvern). Reply to this

14 years ago, December 20th 2006 No: 13 Msg: #9305  
Although I take your points, I genuinely do believe that there are shades of grey in a country. And there is a difference between say, a country where everyone is poor whilst the politicians/military are surrounded in riches, and a country that is systematically wiping out its own people (such as in Burma - and incidentally, Thailand is now the country that props up the Burmese economy, over China).

John - why is it not our responsibility to change the world? For me, I would say that we each have a responsibility to try and improve it whenever and wherever we can. I don't mean this specifically targeted at you - I think this would include virtually every person on this site (and me!) - but honestly and seriously, how often do we follow up on things that have shocked us abroad? How often do we start writing letters to the government, attending protests, donating to a relevant charity, etc etc? Although it's a lovely idea, I don't think it's realistic - which means that we just forget and go back to our old lives.

Victor - I agree with you that you can hardly take a moral/ethical stance on travelling if you're not going to apply it to all other parts of your life. But then I would argue...do it. We should all be living as ethically as we possibly can, it's that simple. But, for example, I think things like buying fair trade goods from an unethical country where the poor benefit, is totally fine.

I think what I'm about to say may come across strangely, possibly because I won't be explaining it well, but it's just how my mind works. To me, if I travel to an unethical country, it seems like I am effectively saying to the average Joe I pass on the streets that "it is more important that I see some ruins and get some good photos, than that you have your inherent human rights."

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14 years ago, December 22nd 2006 No: 14 Msg: #9370  
B Posts: 5,195
Shades of gray indeed!

Even in the case of Burma (which I visited a year ago). I didn't spend too much time thinking about the ethical implications of my visit at the time. Since - yes - the government undoubtedly gained from my visit - the road side random taxes of $10 roughly every time we changed location. We were told that the money went to the preservation of XYZ site - but did it really?

But - there are so many small businesses, local guest houses, local guides whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism - if tourism ceased how much more would these people suffer? If the tourist dollar disappeared - these people certainly would not be supported by their governments and whole regions would be returned to abject poverty.

To me, if I travel to an unethical country, it seems like I am effectively saying to the average Joe I pass on the streets that "it is more important that I see some ruins and get some good photos, than that you have your inherent human rights."

I see what you are saying here - and agree that it may well be the case in some cases - but I also believe in many cases tourism is something that keeps people alive, keeps them fed, and allows them hope of a better life, because of the tourists there is internet access - uncensored in Burma, there is satellite television with news reports from the BBC and CNN. But then - the people of the country know that the regime is corrupt and horrific - so does this information benefit them?

And as Aung San Suu Kyi states - the trickle down effect is often only a trickle.

ASSK ~ Well, I think that visitors to the country can be useful, depending on what they do, or how they go about it. But I think also, tourists have to be careful not to deceive themselves; if they want to see the country, they can find all sorts of excuses for doing so. But what they have to understand is how far their visits really go to help the people. You go a long way towards deceiving yourself. You can talk about 'trickle down' effect, but sometimes the trickle down effect is exactly that, a mere trickle, which dissipates before it gets to where it's required.

More here: Free Burma Resources

How often do we start writing letters to the government, attending protests, donating to a relevant charity, etc etc?

Does this actually do anything? - 2 million people protested in the streets of London about the Iraq war and nothing changed - an unjust and unethical war was started for oil and greed.

Aside: Burma has oil reserves. According to the CIA - 1,000,000,000 (1 billion barrels) - Total (France)/Unocal (USA) and Texaco (USA), Nippon Oil (Japan), Premier Oil (UK) are involved in exporting this... this is the money that is propping up corrupt regimes... not the odd $10 from a tourist here and there - though it all adds up.
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14 years ago, December 30th 2006 No: 15 Msg: #9522  
Wow - its so good to see so many informed travellers!! 😊

We've just travelled Myanmar (Burma) returning last week, and I must say I'm glad I did!

I'd contemplated boycotting the country, but then thought about how ethically-conscious travelling (ie. a mindset rather than a philosophical position) can actually benefit the local people rather than the regimes that oppress them.

As an ethically-conscious 'tourist' I was able to:
- Talk to people about other places I'd visited and my own country and expand their knowledge of their neighbours and global position
- Inform curious locals about world events (some people may say it was a subjective opinion...),
- Avoided discussing Myanmar politics in public spaces
- Buy locally produced goods and food (from local stalls everywhere I went, until my money ran out)
- Introduce local people to surfing the web to find out information about the world (yes, you can get around government 'blocks')
- NOT hand out candy and pencils to kids but teach them languages, facts, music, games, tricks and fun INTERACTIVE things to do instead of begging
- Avoided government run transport (Trains etc.), hotels, government taxed goods (eg. Myanmar Beer), Government funded tourist sites or their offices (wherever possible),
- Focussed on spending my money to benefit the people that are kind, generous wonderful and EXTREMELY POOR due to the actions of their government (and not necessarily their own)
- Tried to learn THEIR language!

I don't want to skite but I think these are some of the things that CAN be done, instead of lamenting about all the things that should be done. I didn't change the world but I helped a few people out. Hopefully this has a trickle down effect and my attempts to 'think global and ACT local' were made possible by a visit to this country!

PS. I also had a ball.
PPS. It's good to see so many people thinking global - a substantial body of knowledge on these subjects leads to different ways of change occurring.
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14 years ago, December 31st 2006 No: 16 Msg: #9538  
Nunny - wow, it's great to hear of all the stuff you've been doing and so encouraging. I think there are definite key points to what you are saying - I started this topic trying to find out different opinions and it's been so good to hear them. I think your attitude of "I didn't change the world but I helped a few people out" is bang on!

Ali - totally get what you're saying. Attending protests etc can be really frustrating and fruitless (although the criticism the British gov't has received for ignoring the opinions of its electorate over Iraq has been damning). However, I would say that it's about making the conscious step to act yourself - it's a totally different mindset to simply thinking "it won't change anything, so why bother?" And working for a charity, I would also obviously say that donating to a charity working well in that area can be really effective, depending on their methods... :p
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14 years ago, January 8th 2007 No: 17 Msg: #9734  
It seems I am a bit finding this thread so if no one reads this oh well. But I thought I would just throw this out there. It seems many people want to jump on Third World countries for having horrendous human rights records, which many of them do, yet ignore the human rights abuses that are attributable to the United States(and her allies), both directly and indirectly, the last 60 years. I don't want to take too much time or moralize too much, so I will just throw these things out there and let you decide. I am from the States so that is what I know the most about.

-Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US is the biggest arms dealer in the world and we were second before they collapsed.
-We have supported repressive regimes in El Salvador, Nicauragua, Chile, and Gautamala, just to name a few. All have atrocious human rights records.
-During the eighties we invaded Panama and Gredana, killing thousands and displacing the local popular government.
-We supported the Indonesian government with weapons and political backing when they invaded East Timor, killing 200,000 people.
-Along with the Chinese we funded the Khemer Rouge and their war against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, while a million Cambodians starved to death.
-Between 1960 and 1965 we attempted at least eight seperate times to assasinate Fidel Castro; in 1986 Reagan bambed Quaddafi's home in an attempt to kill him, which resulted in the death of many of his family members; when did kill the democratically elected, Communist leader of Chile, and replaced with a right-wing repressive regime of our choosing.
-Shortly after entering office, Bill Clinton called the attempted assasination of former President Bush(which was never proven to be linked to Iraq), "loathsome and cowardly", shortly before he ordered a bombing raid on Baghdad with the express goal of killing Saddam Hussein.
-Just last year the government sold jet fighters to both India and Pakistan, although we know that they do not get along and that they have more pressing needs.

Now, I am not saying everything is the fault of the West, and I am not a religious man, but I think the "he who is without guilt cast the first stone" parable is appropriate here. I don't see how anyone can refuse to visit a country because of their human rights record, yet still call home any country that supports repressive regimes abroad(the US and Britain), oppresses it's people at home(South Africa until recently, the US until the 1960s), or has indiscrimantly massacred the indeginous populations they now live(damn near everywhere).

Just a thought Reply to this

14 years ago, February 9th 2007 No: 18 Msg: #10620  
What is Ethical? You have to define your own personal meaning of the word and compare that to the peceived collective meaning. Personally, politics is not the people of a land. They have to tolerate what the politicians, leaders, dictators throw their way of course, but, we are talking about people here. I have never met a single politician in my 25 years of travelling to more that 70 countries, I have only the newspapers and TV to keep me up to date. And normally that bears no relation to what's happening on the ground. We should endeavour to visit every country that accepts travellers, no matter how corrupt the regime. For example: last summer I spent 2 months cycling in a police-state that is slowly stymying free-speech, a state where the population is pecieved as dumb and un-informed by the rest of the world, a state run by the most hated leader in the world in charge of one of the dodgiest governments, a state that required my fingerprints, my hard-earned cash for entry, my getting a new passport etc. Despite this appauling track-record, I found the American people to be some of the most open and nicest in the world! Reply to this

14 years ago, February 22nd 2007 No: 19 Msg: #10983  
Well said Bikepacker!

I usually try and avoid these conversations because I am generally un-informed, or ill-informed about track records and human rights violations and which governments are doing what. Before heading to a country the only thing that I worry about is whether or not it is safe to go there for a westerner which in most cases the answer is yes. In fact some of the nicest locals I have met have been in countries that are widely thought to be unsafe.

Thailand has been brought up and I remember worrying about the coup a week before I was supposed to arrive. The thing is that they have had something like 17 coups in 60 years and as long as their King supports it the people are happy. Other countries that I have been to with questionable track records are Uganda and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, not sure about the situation there but it was a little depressing. I spent three months in Uganda working in a home for orphaned kids. Almost all of their money comes from foreigners like me (which was not a lot) yet Uganda's government is extremely corrupt and spends half of their budget on arms. Half of that money comes from NGOs, the UN and other international support.

The thing with Uganda is that it seems like people are becoming reliant on westerners to do things for them.

Maybe it's best that we don't get involved with other people's business and let them sort themselves out? If they aren't happy, let them change it! Easier said then done, but if every time a country's leader does something we don't like, well then we're just telling them how to live. I think that every single one of us lives in a country that does something bad. If you're ever in Canada head to some of the Native Reserves or some of the more 'hick' towns.

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14 years ago, March 9th 2007 No: 20 Msg: #11715  
Yeah but aren't we just turning a blind eye if we let them get away with it? Aren't we pissing our responsibilities down the drain a bit as countries that are actually in a position to help people in those countries? Because I reckon it is a lot more easier said than done - for example, in Uganda, the problem of the Night Commuters has been going on for more than 20 years. It's looking a bit brighter at the moment, but that's largely because of NGOs and their involvement in encouraging the peace process in the North.

And yeah, I'm definitely not saying that our countries are blemish/big huge stain free...i'm British! But if we're saying that you can't judge a country by its gov't then that applies to us too - so we should act responsibly even if our gov'ts don't! Reply to this

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