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Ahead of the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) to be held in Cape Town next week, Fair Trade Tourism today announced that it is collaborating with global and local NGOs to develop additional certification criteria that will address the potential exploitation of children and captive-held wildlife within the volunteerism sector.

Fair Trade Tourism is the first certification scheme to develop specific criteria for the multi-billion dollar global volunteerism industry. The social and economic contribution of volunteers in developing countries is potentially huge, yet there is little oversight of this burgeoning industry, which largely targets the youth.

A recent Human Sciences Research Council report warns of voluntourists crowding out local workers and of unstable attachments and losses experienced by children who bond with short-term, foreign caregivers. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, in some African countries the rise in volunteerism is associated with a boom in unregistered orphanages where children’s welfare is secondary to profits. Leading environmental NPO, Wildlands, has warned of the proliferation of captive lion breeding outfits where volunteers sign up to hand-rear cubs that have been forcibly removed from their mothers and are destined to be sold for canned lion hunting.

In 2009, Fair Trade Tourism played a pioneering role by developing certification criteria for voluntourism, focusing on the involvement of local communities, the fair share of benefits, adequate screening and training of volunteers, and preventing child labour. By end 2015, it will develop additional criteria to specifically protect volunteers, as well as children and wildlife involved in volunteer programmes, from exploitation or abuse.

Fair Trade Tourism Managing Director Nivashnee Naidoo said responsible voluntourism players wanted to differentiate themselves by adopting best-practice standards that avoided the exploitation of local communities, wildlife or the volunteers themselves. “We believe we have a leading role to play in setting the best-practice benchmark”.

Non-executive director Jane Edge said Fair Trade Tourism was consulting with a range of concerned NGOs, including Tourism Watch, Akte, ECPAT, Wildlands and Endangered Wildlife Trust. “Our new criteria will focus more carefully on the way volunteer programmes market themselves, whether programmes are responsible and sustainable, and how carefully volunteers are prepared. With programmes involving children, such as orphanage or school placements, we will look at issues around child protection and well-being, including the risk of bonding abnormalities and of sexual exploitation.

“With captive wildlife programmes, we will look at issues around the well-being of animals, the level of human-animal interaction, potential dangers to volunteers, and the verification of conservation claims made.”

Dr Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands, said: “There is a cynical relationship between programmes that offer cub petting and walking with young lions and their eventual demise in canned lion hunts.” Kelly Marnewick, carnivore conservation manager for the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said the containment and breeding of lions was usually done under the banner of conservation, “but the bottom line is that the lion encounter industry does nothing to conserve wild lions”.

Fair Trade Tourism Programme Development Manuel Bollmann said while European Governments support the volunteer services of young adults in developing countries, this support is linked to obligations, with increasing pressure for volunteer organisations to subject themselves to due diligence and for volunteers to attend comprehensive preparation programmes. “Fair Trade Tourism certified organisations will receive increasing market support in future as the need to differentiate the credible players grows.”

Fair Trade Tourism plans to release its revised certification criteria by December 2015 following a period of consultation with relevant NGOs and the volunteer tourism sector.