Workers' rights

For many tourists, shopping for souvenirs is an important part of the travel experience. Tour operators and tourists often do not take bad working conditions in the production and sale of souvenirs into account.

Souvenirs such as clothes or other garments are often produced in factories and imported from other countries and regions, mostly China, India and South-East Asia. Bad working conditions, such as long working hours, very low wages, a lack of health and safety measures, a lack of time for recovery, or a lack of social security are common in such manufacturing plants, also called “sweatshops”.

Other souvenirs such as gemstones (jewellery) can come from mines with bad and sometimes slave-like working conditions. Mining work is particularly well-known for being strenuous and harmful. Many mines also lack health provisions, which may lead to long-term health problems for workers. Profits from mining in conflict regions can also help conflicting parties to finance themselves and thereby fuel conflicts.

Carpets are a popular souvenir to take home from India or Pakistan. There have been several reports of carpet factories being involved in human trafficking, slave labour, and child labour.

Souvenir sellers often work in the informal sector, without a regular income and are often not attached to a social security or pensions system.

For more information on child labour in souvenir production and sales, see the risk card on Shopping and Children’s rights.

Olympic souvenirs: Canada
Carpets: India
Gems: Myanmar
Olympic souvenirs: Canada

Sweatshop goods banned from Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver

Organizers of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver took various precautions to ensure that official merchandise was not produced in sweatshops.

All suppliers of licensed products were required to agree to a Code of Conduct governing working conditions. The code focused on minimum-wage requirements, health and safety measures and permitting workers to freedom of association. It also required suppliers to agree to pay for independent audits of their facilities, including surprise and on-the-spot visits.

As a result of the first round of 80 audits, six factories were selected as manufacturers of Olympics-related goods.

Carpets: India

Horrible working conditions in carpet production in India

India’s carpet factories have been found to employ victims of human trafficking, and to have working conditions accounting to slave labour. Often underage workers work in small filthy shacks with bad air and a lack of light, and are provided with inadequate food and recovery periods, which in many cases results in health impairments.

Gems: Myanmar

Myanmar’s “genocide gems”

Myanmar has a variety of precious stones, such as sapphires, almost all of the world’s superior quality jade, and 95% of the world’s rubies. Military-affiliated companies directly profit from the mining sector in Myanmar by issuing mine licensing and permits, running auctions, and controlling mine shares. In 2017, the Myanmar military carried out crimes, which, according to the United Nations, amounted to a campaign of genocide and war crimes. Buying gems from Myanmar may directly support the military, and as such, there is rising international pressure on jewellery retailers to stop buying precious gemstones from the country.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clauses on working conditions and responsible sourcing in contracts / Supplier Code of Conduct with souvenir suppliers / business partners.

Supplier assessment

  • Assess the working conditions of employees in souvenir sales / retail shops (business partners) in second- and third-party audits.

Training and capacity assessment

  • Train procurement staff on the issue of working conditions in souvenir production and how they can address these when interacting with suppliers.

Communication and reporting

  • Inform customers about potential issues linked to souvenir shopping. Encourage them to buy locally produced souvenirs, e.g. by cooperatives, local artists etc.

Responsible product development

  • Find local artisanal projects, cooperatives, local artists etc. to partner with. Include visits to such workshops in tours and encourage tourists to buy from those local initiatives directly.

    Learn more

    Find more information in the Resource Centre.