The ethics of volunteering – what do you think?

The ethics of volunteering – what do you think?

There’s been a lot in the print and web media recently about the ethics and challenges of volunteer travel.

One of the reasons we started people and places was to campaign for change – better practice by recruiting organisations – a fair deal for volunteers and the communities they seek to serve.

Those of you who have volunteered will have first hand knowledge of some of the challanges and valuable insight into the realities. Those of you who are new to volunteering may want to raise questions that we should be answering.

The following are just a few examples. What do you think? We would really welcome your input – post your comments against this blog post – or drop Sallie an email and she  will post it for you.( or not if you don’t want to publish your opinion and comments!)

Click on the titles to read the article

Why you shouldn’t participate in voluntourismlike most things in life,(voluntourism) is far more ethically nuanced than many organisations facilitating such experiences often let on.
A Code of Practice for volunteer organisation – would it work? Two well respected organisations are planning are working on codes of practise but will these just be another meaningless kitemark?
Do it right or don’t do it at all Can volunteering in an orphanage or childrens home ever be ethical?

We at people and places are very pleased to see that destinations – our hosts – are now starting to address the problems created by irresponsible programmes – particularly where it involves working with children

take a look at

A recent article about orphanages in Cambodia

The Child Safe Campaign for Cambodia

and debate about the accuracy of the Cambodia reportage which serves to underline how carefully we must research!

and some recent news from Nepal

two countries were way too many vulnerable children and well meaning volunteers are exploited.

At people and places we have always had a responsible travel policy and codes of conduct  – we have now also developed A child protection policy – where projects already have their own we will ofcourse use those but where the projects have not yet developed their own we will use our generic policy. Take a look here

So what do you think?

Want to keep up with the debates – try these two @panpvolunteer on twitter and the responsible volunteering page on facebook

the planeta wikispace for volunteering is a good source of information too

7 thoughts on “The ethics of volunteering – what do you think?

  1. Preaching to the converted ???

    It’s FANTASTIC to see genuine debate about the ethics of volunteering – serious credit goes to Child Safe Campaign, Sallie, Ron Mader, Voluntourism Gal, Rand]y at Geovisions and several others, including (very occasionally!) members of the press and other media who actually do their own research …

    BUT – PLEASE – you are all talking to each other, preaching to the converted.

    It is equally important, and probably even more important, that the ‘volunteering public’ (for want of a better term) are included in these debates and discussions !!!

    I’m here at the coal face, talking with potential volunteers and returned volunteers all the time – as people and places, Sallie and I are of course able to draw all these issues to their attention – BUT WE ALL NEED TO GO MUCH FURTHER. (and yes – I intended to use caps lock!)

    How do we
    a) ensure that more travellers and volunteers are aware and informed about the current debates and issues?
    b) encourage genuine naming and shaming? There seems to be a subliminal belief that when travelling to do good, one cannot / should not criticise – OH, PLEASE !!!

    So – that is my challenge for all of you – get the message out there where it matters i.e. in the broader public domain

  2. You’re absolutely right Sallie and Kate. We’re seeing some interesting developments in corporate life concerning responsible and sustainable business practice – and that’s really positive! However, it’s a concern that tourism, and I include volunteer travel within that sector, seems to be still classified as a completely separate industry from the rest of the corporate world. Why would that be and how can we change that? Tourism should be subject to the same CSR scrutiny as other sectors. Perhaps encouraging dialogue with major corporate players, many of which engage their employees as volunteers across the globe, may help?

  3. Some interesting articles here. Pity its mainly those of us who understand some of the issues that read them. One interesting as[pect of much of the criticism of volunteer projects is that the criticism is often coming from writers, academics etc in the developed world. This is what makes the Cambodian orphanage issues so interesting to me.

    I like Donna’s point as well, in that the tourism industry sees itself as somewhat separate, and my experience is that despite the lip service to responsible travel, its still a pretty untransformed industry.

    The issue of certification is also very topical, and I am quite a fan, if its done by a credible, preferably NGO, service provider, if the criteria are relevant to local context and transparent, and if it serves as an internal mechanism for managing the companies sustainability as opposed to a marketing device. Sustainability is ongoing, and never complete, so if the certification drives and demands an ongoing improvement of practice, that is good.

    I must be honest that a lot of the debate wears me out. Some of the commentators seem quite removed from the reality of the development and community impacts. The analysis of impact is often reductionist, and ignores the changes in human behaviour that sometimes come about. Yes, we strive to see communities develop, but if volunteers leave with a more realsitic understanding of the politics of poverty, surely that in itself must be acknowledged.

    Thanks P&P for keeping the debate alive.

  4. Paul, I can understand your being worn out by some of the superficial debate that is doing the rounds. I was uplifted by the sentiment of Radio 4’s Thought of the Day last Friday (28/10/11). Sometimes it takes a simple comment, which relates to ALL businesses and ALL individuals within those businesses. to clarify the nub of the issue. I think that Lord Singh hit the nail well and truly on its head in his commentary last Friday on Radio 4. Here’s the transcript of the piece that worked for me: “The news that in a desperate attempt to end, or ease the crisis in the Eurozone bankers have agreed to write off half the Greek debt, comes as a welcome sign of hope in a story of doom and gloom. The move is not so much motivated by altruism, but by a wider understanding that in our interdependent world our fortunes are linked to those of others. Here self interest, and the religious imperative of looking to the needs of others, are not so far apart. It was greed and self interest that led to the global financial crisis. It’s responsible living that can get us out of it.” Quite.

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