Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trade and Values

What would happen if in the duty-free area of any international airport, perfect reproductions of machine guns and hand grenades were put on sale for passengers just about to board their planes? Reproductions that would look so real that it'd be enough to give a heart attack to a flight attendant on any airplane, or a nervous breakdown to all the passengers of a 747?

Well, that's the question I'm asking myself each time I pass by the Becara shop at Terminal 4 of Madrid Barajas airport, where reproductions of all sorts of banned wildlife items are on display for sale.

The photo is not very clear because the manager of the shop tried to prevent me from taking it. But if you put your curser and click on it, you will see what I'm talking about: I've circled in red whale bones, turtle shells, and a saw fish.

All these items have something in common. The international trade of the species represented is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) whose Conference of Parties is just about to begin this week-end in Doha, Qatar. But this does not seem to trouble the Spanish airport authority who host the Becara shop.

Like the rest of the European Union and 174 other countries, Spain is a Party to the CITES Convention. [Ironically, a few metres from the Becara shop at Terminal 4, there is a poster reminding passengers in transit from exotic countries that -- in accordance to the CITES Convention -- they cannot import goods made from endangered species]

Of course these are "just" reproductions, not real species samples(as far as I can tell, because when I started asking questions and tried to touch and photograph the stuff the manager asked me to leave). But for sure this display has no place in an international airport because it clearly promotes (at least indirectly) trade in endangered species: if you're attracted by that expensive kitsch junk, you surely wish you could get your hand on the real thing.

Many colleagues and friends are at the CITES meeting in the next two weeks, where the status of the Atlantic bluefin tuna will be the big issue. And when I passed by the shop at Terminal 4 this week, I was on my way to a workshop about sustainable consumption patterns in Germany where we discussed (among other items) the need and ways to accelerate cultural value changes.

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