Letter-writing

Do not fancy that an intermission of writing is a decay of kindness. No man is always in a disposition to write; nor has any man at all times something to say.

Dr Johnson (1948).

Published in: on November 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Girl Power

Women in Sarayaku, Ecuador, are fighting for their right to remain on their land, facing up to oil companies who are wanting to start oil exploration on their land.

The group of Kichwas live in a province of the Amazon highly sought after by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Mines and Oil, but they have consistently failed to break through the opposition. The local women have played a key part in preventing the invasive investment proposed by the oil companies, threatening their husbands that they will have to look for women elsewhere if they allow the oil companies to work on their lands.

They have faced several violent confrontations, meeting face to face with the companies armed guards in 2003, forcing the army to intervene. Yet still the Kichwas remain remarkably defiant, determined to protect their land.

Oil drilling can be detrimental to the environment and well-being of the local people. Water sources become polluted, killing fish and endangering domestic animals and crops. The pollution can also affect the local population, causing respiratory diseases, birth defects and even miscarriages.

It’s no wonder the Kichwas remain opposed, for they know it will dramatically alter their lands and lives forever. Of course, the battle is not yet over, they face lawsuits, challenges to their land rights and intimidation tactics. Yet, with the Kichwa women standing firm, they have little to fear.

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Awful Advertising

I received through the post today what appeared to be a rather charming little flyer advertising home decorating. A qualified interior decorator, it read, was available for painting, wallpaper hanging and boarders.

I sighed.

So near, yet so far. The stumbling block of mispelling is unlikely to bring much business to this local entrepeneur. It is more likely to invite confusion (is it implying lodgers are part of the deal?) than prospective customers. If you are going to go as far as print several hundred flyers for your home start-up business, surely it’s worth proofreading first?

Still, this little faux-pas is a mere trifle compared to the errors made recently by the Latvian tourist board, who proudly boasted that their capital city, Riga, was ‘Easy to Go, Hard to Live!’. I assume the translator was away on holiday when that mistake was handed to the printers. A very embarrasing £500,000 slip-up to make on an international advertising campaign….

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm  Comments (4)  
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World Toilet Day

Today is World Toilet Day, a time to appreciate the vitally important toilet, something we often take for granted. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the 2.6 billion people worldwide who do not have access to a toilet or even decent sanitation facilities.

WaterAid is running a brilliant campaign to highlight the desperate need for better sanitation across the globe. Water is something we often take for granted, until there is a sudden scarcity. Yet billions of people worldwide still have no access to clean, safe running water. A lack of toilets quickly leads to the spread of disease and diarrhoea is a major cause of childhood deaths worldwide. Such deaths could be easily prevented by providing adequate sanitation.

Give it some thought when you go to spend a penny today.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Response to Rainforest Alliance

Regarding the comment that my previous post received, I thought I’d write a response.

The crucial difference between the two is a commitment to tackling the root causes of poverty, and addressing the injustices of the current trade system.

Whereas Rainforest Alliance may provide a minimum wage on the farms, there appears to be no price guarantee for the products. Fair Trade tackles the issue of trade injustice, aiming to get a better deal for the producers, and to reverse the current trade system. They each have a different focus, Fair Trade aims to empower the poor, change the trade system and improve the lot of producers in developing countries. Rainforest Alliance is primarily committed to environmental sustainability.

Both classifications have their merits, aiming to abolish child labour and adhere to International Labour Organisation standards.

However, the Fair Trade mark represents a partnership between the buyer and the producer, paying a Fair Trade premium (to encourage community development) and a guaranteed minimum price, no matter what the market does. Farmers certified by the Rainforest Alliance have no such guarantee, and rely on market prices to ensure their income. Such instability can compromise sustainability.

Rainforest Alliance has indeed higher environmental standards than Fair Trade, yet the Fair Trade mark always indicates that it is 100% Fair Trade, unlike the varying amounts in Rainforest Alliance certified products.

I have to say that it is really encouraging to see such commitment to sustainable and fair trade with developing countries. My point was not to deride the Rainforest Association, because it clearly represents a great step towards a trading system that acknowledges the importance of protecting the environment and addressing social issues. My aim in writing about this is to examine the differences and try and bring a bit of clarity to what is becoming a confusing array of labels for the consumer.

Ultimately, for me, it’s the people that matter, and I am committed to buying Fair Trade.

Rainforest Alliance Standards

Fairtrade Foundation FAQs

A Fairtrade blog

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Rainforest Alliance vs. Fair Trade

Having had a few people ask me the difference between the two, I thought I’d write a summary to clarify some of the key distinctions.

With all the confusing labels around it can be easy to assume that if a company adopts a ‘sustainable’ symbol, it is doing something to help preserve our world. Yet it’s not always that simple.

The drive for greater corporate social responsibility has created a market for business-driven sustainability. As businesses are pressured to be seen ‘making a difference’ they are seeking the easiest way to improve their reputation, without actually making a difference to their standards.

The key difference can be seen between the standards set by Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade. Whilst Fair Trade relies on independent monitoring boards to ensure standards are met, Rainforest Alliance heads up its own standard setting body, operating in a somewhat closed system.

Fair Trade sets stringent standards for farmer’s organisations and hired labour, helping form cooperatives and encouraging democratic decision-making, ensuring the standards are upheld by the workers themselves. It provides a minimum wage, which not only ensures a decent regular income, but also allows for future independence. However, Rainforest Alliance has no such system, setting no minimum wage, and has no requirements for building farmers unions. Moreover Rainforest Alliance only requires the producer to comply with its standards by 50% and for the product to contain 30%. This means that a Rainforest Alliance certified product could contain 30% ingredients that are sourced from a plantation which still relies on child labour.

Finally, anyone can adopt the Rainforest Alliance label with no fee, but there is a 2% charge for becoming Fair Trade, which goes towards building community development projects, ensuring standards are improved for farm workers with every sale.

There is a useful chart set out by the Organic Consumers Association that outlines the key differences if you want to read more.

In essence Rainforest Alliance offers standards to help the environment, whilst Fair Trade builds on this and creates standards in addition that are good for the workers.

Just give it some thought the next time you buy some teabags.

The Diving Bell

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for years, but only got round to watching it recently. Some of the scenes felt strikingly familiar.

The film is based on the true story of the Editor in chief of the fashion magazine Elle, who suffered a sudden and tragic stroke, leaving him paralysed from head to toe, only able to blink his left eye. Jean-Dominique Bauby is told he has ‘locked-in syndrome’, trapped in his body – the diving bell, with only his imagination and memory – the butterfly, intact.

I’m not going to write a film review, there are others that can comment on the marvellous cinematography with far more creativity and expertise than I can. I will urge you to watch it if you haven’t already, it is incredibly moving and a great inspiration. It’s not just the perseverance of Jean-Dominique, but also the dedication and patience of the speech therapist and the beauty hired to note down his thoughts that capture the true strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

We never know what might lie just around the corner, and the film reminded me of how fragile life really is. It has made me all the more determined to make every moment count.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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