Choosing Ethical Souvenirs

Bringing home presents and souvenirs from your holiday is all part of the fun, but not all of the things on offer in the world’s tourist shops are what you could describe as truly “ethical” – and sometimes, they’re not legal either. It’s a potential minefield even for knowledgeable and experienced travellers, but for youngsters it can be a real nightmare.

It isn’t easy to make sure that their well-intentioned desire to support the local economy by selecting something ethically produced in the area isn’t taken advantage of by unscrupulous vendors, but it can be done, particularly if you learn a few of the obvious things to avoid.

Spots, Stripes and CITES

High on the list of things that are simply best left on the shelf is anything that is, or was, living – and that includes shells, feathers and skins. While most people are aware that the pelts of most spotted cats, ivory products and tortoiseshell are illegal to bring back, other prohibited animal or plant derivatives are less well known, and they’re difficult enough for experts to recognise, in any case.

There are over 33,000 types of plant and animal covered by CITES – the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora – including a whole range of things from mammals and reptiles to coral, orchids and cacti. For most of us, knowing exactly what you’re looking at on that street-seller’s stall is about as likely as flying to the moon, so just err on the side of caution and steer your youngsters clear of anything made from material with a plant or animal origin – no matter how attractive it looks.

Ornaments and Artefacts

The problem of picking ethical souvenirs doesn’t only apply when your family holidays abroad. Although you don’t normally find anything that contravenes CITES in the average British tourist shop, the fact remains that some of the souvenirs are more ethical than others.

If your children are set on helping to support the local economy and the community that lives and works all year round in the place where you’ve been staying, probably the best way is to purchase your holiday gifts directly from the people who make them. There’s usually no shortage of potteries, galleries, mill shops, wood-workers and the like in most of the UK’s major tourist spots, and buying things at source is a sure way to make certain your money ends up in the right place. Besides, that way you can usually also get to see for yourself how the things you’ve bought are actually made.

Official Approval

The vast majority of the world’s shop keepers and street traders are good and honest folk, simply trying to make a living to provide for themselves and their families, but sadly there are the odd rogues to be found in every corner of the globe – and it’s not always easy to spot them.

One way around the problem is to look for some kind of official recognition or licensing – either of the premises themselves, or the souvenirs. The rise of green awareness around the world means that many governments, tourist boards and environmental charities have launched programmes to give official approval to genuinely ethically produced items. Of course, not all of these schemes carry the same weight as others, but it’s certainly worth seeing if you can find something which has been properly certified by a major recognised body. That way you and your children can enjoy buying your souvenirs, safe in the knowledge you’ve done all you can to make sure they really are as ethically produced as you would want them to be – and you can give them to friends and family with a clear conscience.