No getting away

The endless ethical challenge of travelling

1st March 2019

Winter has gone, spring is here and summer is just around the corner. Which can only mean one thing: holidays. Sadly, corruption and violation of human rights take place all around the world regardless of how sunny it is or how nice the beaches are. Before 24-hour news channels and the internet, it was easier to put those things out of mind and focus on the nice side of travelling. Now, in a world where we have a clearer understanding of what goes on everywhere, the idea of boycotting a country that from the outside looks completely inhumane seems reasonable.

But the idea of choosing a country based on how it supports our core values might be weird, self-serving and potentially west-centric. After all, aren’t we supposed to accept and understand other cultures?

Well, no. Not if the money we spend in these places potentially goes towards corrupt causes that prop up tyrannical regimes and criminality. Nor should we accept that we, as travellers, are enjoying luxuries denied to and built on the backs of locals unrepresented by their tourist board.


Russia may be striking and beautiful with exciting cities, but it is also where a person’s individuality, sexuality and freedom of expression are frowned upon (read “openly punished”) while ideals of national pride and political identity are followed with religious fervour.

Meanwhile, the Russian Mafia’s reach extends far beyond its native borders. Russia is a major global human trafficker — exploiting unemployment and job shortages to sell victims into cheap work inside Russia as well as buying victims from Nigeria and selling victims to Eastern Europe, South East Asia and America, where they are put into slave labour and sex work. Russian criminals operate in America, running sex slave gangs in cities like Las Vegas and often, victims of this trafficking become forced into drug addiction by their buyers. Yet the Russian government doesn’t tackle the issue.


The home of spiritual discovery, India, is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. But it is also a place that is economically corrupt and where forced marriages permeate the culture. It has also been noted that gender balance between men and women has been skewed by female foeticide in order for men to dominate societies. Child sex trafficking is also large-scale in India, as well as forced child labour and organ trafficking.

Fitting that India’s most famous landmark is a woman’s mausoleum.

Middle East

Dubai may be a city of glamour and success, but behind its modern, ultra-bling, business-oriented facade are the foreign workers who sweat over the construction of its cultural landmarks and showy buildings. Workers are tied under corrupt contracts to work for next to nothing for the city’s ever-expanding industries driven by global image and tourism.

But it isn’t just the United Arab Emirates that breeds slave labour. In Saudi Arabia, there are stories of Indian foreign workers being treated abominably. A woman claimed to have been raped by her employer’s son while being trapped in an illegal contract, and apparently, an Indian worker was thrown out of an apartment building by their boss.

The Med

Terrorism might be a worry for holiday makers, but we can hardly hold Tunisia responsible for that — and if we don’t go on holiday, the terrorists win, right? But Tunisia isn’t the liberal, Mediterranean melting pot it claims to be. There is racism towards black people, abuse towards pregnant women and severe homophobia in the form of sexuality monitoring.

Italy may seem a place of great art and history. But next time you visit to sample the wine and pasta and lose yourself in some tragic portrayal of a well-known opera, try to remember you are in a country that’s attitude towards immigration is harmful and devastating, and where extreme fascism is widespread and growing in its society.

Basically everywhere

But surely it’s cool to switch off and turn back time in the peaceful, party life of the Caribbean?… If that means literally turning back time because capital punishment is still allowed in Caribbean countries, and still mandatory in some. In recent years, Guatemala has shown live executions by lethal injection on live television. Most states in America still hold the death penalty in some form and China comes out as the worst at the moment in terms of enforcing it.

Modern Egypt can’t be held responsible for the sins on the past but they have their own 📷 Nina Aldin Thune

Though Egypt is an amazing place to explore, with its ancient tombs and vivid historical fingerprint, it is still an extremely corrupt place with women’s rights being as old as the pyramids. Female genital mutilation is prevalent and women do not gain access to divorce rights. This means men exploit the situation as much as they like, leaving women with the bleak choice of staying with the man they hate for the rest of their lives or walking out with absolutely nothing, often to a life of poverty.

And if you’re thinking of that tropical visit to Thailand, think again! With a government that is military orientated, it denies freedom of speech, accusing individuals of cyber crime and offending the monarchy, and abuses migrant workers, as well as systematically abusing immigrants while refusing refugees and asylum seekers. On top of which, human trafficking is prevalent and feeds its child sex tourism industry.


It goes on and on. Japan, for example, has high excessively high rates for gender inequality for a developed nation, and its prime minister nominated the president of the country with the highest number of school shootings for a Nobel Peace Prize. So maybe a staycation is in order. Except, of course, that would mean staying in Britain, with our vast history, rich culture and dazzling future. For those of you that didn’t click the links, that’s sarcasm.

So should people ignore these parts of the world until they eventually change? How can we hold the world accountable when we’re so guilty ourselves? Is the world really this fucking awful?

Maybe interacting with all societies is the only way to truly change things. Maybe we should holiday protest and lend our support to the forces fighting these injustices between taking our holiday snaps. Maybe, instead of lying on the hot sand of a golden beach, it’s our moral duty to stand against injustice. But, when there’s so much exploitation going on in the world, sometimes you just want to get away from it all…

1st March 2019