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Q&A

Harriet Lamb

Originally published in SIX magazine issue 5 – ADVENTURE

Fighting For Fairer Trade


Written by Jacqueline Amankwah

In 2012 SIX contributor Jacqueline Amankwah spoke to Harriet Lamb CBE, then Executive Director of Fairtrade Foundation, about ethical travel, the “untouchables” in India, and why she never travels without her swimming costume. 

her most memorable journey –  

[Harriet] Going with the Fairtrade tea producers to Darjeeling, staying in the crumbling, dusty old tea planters’ club with a roaring fire in my room and a view of the mountain peaks – stunning! Travelling deep into a nature reserve in Costa Rica where the indigenous people live was also very special. They were bringing their Fairtrade bananas from their farms on donkeys, and then down the river in tiny dugout canoes. 

advice to a traveller who wants to ensure their travels are ethically sound – 

Ask questions! For example, ask if the tour operator has policies on environmental management. Do hotels have measures in place to save water and energy, reduce waste, procure locally and support local development initiatives? Check out what products could be Fairtrade (such as tea or coffee) and ask how they are sourced – could they be purchased on Fairtrade terms? Pay a fair price for hand-made crafts and other [local] products – not everything should be “cheap” in poorer countries. Check out the websites of organisations like Tourism Concern, Traidcraft’s ‘Meet the People Tours’ and Fair Trade Tourism South Africa to get the latest guidance. And of course, I can really recommend visiting the Fairtrade producer groups who have diversified into tourism – such as the Dominican Republic’s Cocoa Tour. 

on trends in ethical travel –

Not so long ago sustainability in tourism was narrowly defined in terms of “green” issues. Now greater attention is being focused on the human dimensions of tourism – labour standards, human rights, fair benefits for communities involved in tourism. The concept of Fair Trade Tourism is gaining momentum, and is currently led by South Africa. A Fair Trade holiday guarantees that the entire package is put together in a way that benefits workers, communities, destinations and the environment. Tour operators selling Fair Trade holidays make a compulsory contribution to a Fair Trade Tourism Development Fund, which invests in job creation, decent work and skills development in destinations visited. The project leader, Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa, is teaming up with peers in neighbouring countries to increase the supply of Fair Trade holidays to southern Africa. 

how early years in India influenced her career –

I have many very happy memories of travelling in India – including staying on a water boat on the Dal Lake in Kashmir (this was long before the troubles). I was aware of the poverty in which so many live, and [believed] that people can make poverty history for themselves if we get the structures of global trade and finance right. Most of all, it [the first journey] meant that I went back to India later in life and spent two years working in the rural areas with very deprived communities. I spent time, years before anyone had thought of Fair Trade as we know it today, with a community of so-called “untouchables”, the lowest of the low, who had tiny plots of land that had been mortgaged to the moneylenders and they had lost control of them. Someone from the village helped them get their land back and pool their plots together, and on their pooled land, they started to grow export-quality grapes. They began exporting those grapes to Kuwait, and they were the first people in the whole area to buy a tractor. And then they began investing the higher prices they earned back into getting schooling, building themselves proper housing and so on. That [experience] meant I had a grounded prototype in my head of how Fair Trade could work. 

on how to recharge yourself –

I never, ever travel without a swimming costume and try to have a swim whenever and wherever possible! I [also] just love talking to people so it’s always such a treat to meet such different people around the world. Back home, I recharge by cycling, gardening and having fun with my kids and friends. Oh and drinking far too much coffee and tea… 

on how to retain positivity – 

Well, it’s all such a privilege and a treat. One day I’m sipping coffee with Rwandan women in their houses, and the next I am at a retailer’s HQ; then [I am off] with Fair Trade campaigners across Britain who give so much time to raise awareness locally. Two days are never the same and it’s just so inspiring when the farmers tell you how Fair Trade has given them hope. 

on the destination that felt most like home – 

It’s a cliché, but [it’s] true that New Zealand does feel like Britain in the 1950s – so friendly and sweet! I’d love to live in India again for a bit – that rush of warm air when they open the airplane door – ahhh, I feel like I’m home… 

on her most memorable meal – 

Some landless labourers in India once gave me, as a special treat, a meat dish with eyes in it – and I’m veggie! I had to take tiny sips and move it around the plate. But most of my memories are of the freshest fruits – from pineapples to mangos, coconuts to bananas, picked fresh on the farm; eating them outside with the juice trickling through your fingers is just the best! 

on useful phrases picked up on her travels – 

In Malawi they say “Pitani Bwino”, – which means “travel well”; and, of course, “Namaste” in India [greeting, literally means “I bow to you”].

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