Thursday 29 October 2009

Certification makes green see red!

The following is my comment on Catherine Mack's article on certification:

"When responsibility comes from within, whether someone is certified or not doesn't make a difference. However unfortunately that's not how majority of the industry functions. To what extend can reporting back from travellers bring in a control on green-washers? To what extend can tourist actually see the entire supply chain and report back? To what extend would a traveller run around and report back on the green credentials of operators / properties, rather than enjoying their holidays?...

In 5 years of running our company, we have come across many DMC's in India who are many times transparent and accountable than any that has been certified by someone like Green Globe. To do a fantastic job, they don't need certification, however this doesn't mean that any one of these people might be unwilling to respond to questions from those who are interested in the responsibility factor of their business.

We know personally many stories of poorest of poor artisans in the state of Rajasthan who are cheated by so-called fair trade organisations funded by many international organisations. It's not about taking massive amount of margins. (A leather bag bought at 7 Euro sold at 110 Euro in Habitat isn't our concern.)But, to pay these poor artisans, below standard rates to mass produce these bags and then call it fair-trade is the crime. When we ask the illiterate artisan(sitting in front of a big poster announcing the fair-trade practices of his partners (meaning organised buyers in Europe and their whole sale agents in India))what he understands by "fair trade", he says, he gets about 20 GBP per year to send his kids to school ! For me, that is scandal and not fair trade!

When you see a stamp of fair-trade on a product that one purchases in the west, people buy those (to an extend) as a guilt free experience. 'My purchase is making a difference to the destination from where this product came from. I know that this product I buy hasn't been sourced through exploitation'. Oxfam fair trade coffee became a hit earlier mainly because of this. However, as in the case of a traveller, who might want to know more of about the responsibility factor of the supply chain on which the holiday is running, the lay customer who quickly runs into a fair-trade shop doesn't have or resources or energy to investigate the 'fairness' of these products.

I am not suggesting that we need to have another organisation that certify the 'fairness' of the organisation that has already certified these products. Though that will be a hilarious situation.

What is missing in all the certification process is the matter of 'Trust'. Our guests purchase many souvenirs from the artisans we work with mainly in Kerala and Rajasthan. They buy leather products, bell metal art, pottery and puppets without any question of 'certification'. None of these are certified products in any case!

The reason they purchase these with genuine interest is because of the 'trust' they have developed with the company they are travelling with, and most importantly because they are purchasing it straight from the hand of the artisan without a middle-man. ( certified or not!).

I don't know how this 'trust' factor can be built in the purchase when you buy it from elsewhere. (, a purchase in a shop in London claiming to have fair practices)

However one way to sort out of these issue of trust / certification is for the operators ( Tour, or property owners) to be pro-active about their claims. Orchid Ecotel in Mumbai for e.g, are so proud to show their guests on check-in about the responsibility in which they are running their business! This touch and feel experiences makes all the difference.

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