A Petition to The Flight Centre Encouraging Corporate Responsibility.


Elephants are experiencing the most awful abuses in the name of tourism - travellers to Thailand are often totally unaware of the real story. Travel agents worldwide sell Thailand with images of happy tourists riding on elephants with saddles (howdah) and patting young street elephants. To educate the travelling public we need travel agents to a) be aware of the problem, b) agree to corporate responsibility in the promotion of humane and ethical travel choices.
You can help!

A group of concerned individuals have raised this petition to target one of the largest international travel agents and their affiliates - The Flight Centre - in the ongoing campaign to create better conditions for the working elephants of Thailand. Please sign and share this petition widely with your friends, family and networks.

To learn more about elephants and tourism in Thailand visit: www.elemotion.org

To the Executives and Directors of Flight Centre Limited; Non Executive Chairman Mr Peter Morahan, Managing Director Mr Graham Turner, Non-Executive Directors Mr Peter Barrow, Mr Gary Smith, Chief Financial Officer Mr Andrew Flannery, Company Secretary Mr David Smith and Assistant Co-Secretary Mr Stephen Kennedy,

Dear Mssrs. Morahan, Turner, Barrow, Smith, Flannery, Smith and Kennedy,

Petition of Consumers to Flight Centre Limited regarding Corporate Responsibility and Citizenry in regards to the use of elephants in Flight Centre promotions, packages and services.

Our Request

We the undersigned, respectfully request the Flight Centre group of operations and their other affiliates, leisure, corporate and wholesale brands, to step up to responsible and ethical corporate citizenry in advertising and promoting of tourism products that use elephants (and other captive animals) for entertainment, activities or promotion of services.

And, that you undertake and execute the following steps in all your operations and affiliates worldwide:

a) Seek to understand the ethical implications of Flight Centre's promoting of elephant tourism in its current form and the harm done to elephants used in elephant tourism in Thailand (and Bali).

b) Remove imagery from all Flight Centre electronic, web or print based promotions of elephants in subjective situations;

I.E. Elephant back rides, entertaining tourists, young calves being used to attend weddings or parties and any other depiction of elephants purely as entertainment for tourists;

c) Include responsible tourism information in relation to elephants in your Flight Centre client packs when they are booked to travel to Thailand (and Bali) and on your website(s) outlining the plight of elephants in Thailand (and Bali) and only promote ethical bone fide elephant sanctuaries and eco-tourism operations for clients seeking to connect with elephants, so their tourism promotes sound animal husbandry practices and assists elephants, not perpetuate abusive practices;

d) Create and advertise a Code of Practice for all Flight Centre (and Flight Centres other leisure, corporate and wholesale brands) staff in relation to the selling of packages, destinations and tourist activities that promote responsible tourism based on the wellbeing of elephants;

e) Include in the newly created (as at 23 August 2010 blank) Flight Centre page currently titled "Corporate & Social Responsibility" at the Code of Practice in regards to Responsible Tourism including, but not limited to, the points in part d above;

f) As a world leader in the tourism industry, promote at internal company training and events and at external national and international travel events, peak bodies and other forums the position that Flight Centre has taken in relation to elephant tourism and why.

g) Encourage travel agents and incorporated bodies such as hotel chains, airlines and local operators to take up responsible corporate citizenry by instituting the same Code of Practice across the industry.

The Problem

The Asian elephant has long been domesticated. Elephants live up to 70 years of age in the wild and up to 50 (if cared for adequately) in domesticated circumstances. With the cessation of legal logging in 1989, the previous working elephants have been increasingly used for tourism purposes. Recently the Flight Centre used images of Thailand elephants with howdah (saddles) being used for elephant back trekking and rides to promote the services of the Flight Centre.

The facts are these, elephants used in tourism are largely beaten, underfed and not provided veterinary care.

a) To "break" an elephant born into captivity or not, requires brute force and abuse. The young elephants are put through a "crush" called the phaajan which is a weeks-long "ceremony" where they are tied up and brutally beaten to "break" their spirit and tame them.

b) The use of sharp bull-hooks to the point of causing grievous bodily harm is a common occurrence.

c) Torturous chaining in unnatural positions or for extended periods is a common practice.

d) The drinking water elephants have access too in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are full of harmful bacteria that is known to cause immense pain, chronic illness and even result in death. The number of elephants being bought into these locations is increasing as entrepreneurial mahouts are seeking begging opportunities on the streets.

e) Elephant muscle strength is in the neck, yet the saddles or "howdah" they are fitted with for trekking can weigh upwards of 100 kg then with two or more people in the saddle, a net weight of 300 to 600 kgs is carried. This causes immense pain and spinal damage.

f) When not in "use" elephants are confined and chained in small unsuitable locations without adequate provisioning of space, food or environmental enrichment.

g) To perpetuate the industry many elephants are bred repeatedly and their young removed to "break" for use in the tourism industry, at times the females pelvises are broken in the forced breeding, they are not euthanized, often being forcefully bred again, pain or injury ignored.

h) Mahouts and owners feed their weary elephants amphetamines to keep them working. They become addicted to the substance and when their supply is removed experience agonising detoxification and become very ill or die from the effects.

i) Many young elephants in the tourism trade are wild caught unlawfully, meaning that their mothers or other female relatives would have had to have been killed or injured in the process to secure the youngster; and

j) Young elephant and children are working the streets begging - in the guise of tourist photo opportunities.

The Flight Centre, by promoting elephant tourism, appears to be associated therefore with cruelty, abuse and also appears, unwittingly, to be associated with the unlawful capture of wild protected animals and child labour. This is not the kind of corporate responsibility expected by consumers in the 21st century. Promotion of ethical, well run, transparent and accredited NGO elephant hospitals, nature reserves, sanctuaries and eco-tourism operations would assist Flight Centre to fairly promote its own acts of ethical corporate responsibility. Flight Centres stance in this matter would also educate clients on the plight of Thailands street elephants and provide to those bone fide, responsible organisations caring for elephants, an income stream to undertake the difficult task of rehabilitating the traumatised and abused elephants they assist.

In Conclusion

Flight Centres stated goal in relation to clients is: "We recognise that our customers always have a choice. Therefore, a superior customer service experience, provided with honesty, integrity and a great attitude, is key to our company's success, as is the travel experience we provide." In an increasingly sophisticated travel market, clients are increasingly basing their purchasing decisions on the effect their tourism has on the destinations they visit. Clients are entitled to know, and Flight Centre should be in a position to honestly disclose, the true conditions of the elephants used in tourism operations. Flight Centres reputation is built on service excellence and this should include ethical marketing, services and products.

We thank you for your time and consideration and look forward to a positive response, outlining the steps you will take in addressing Flight Centres responsibility as a corporate citizen in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

The Undersigned.

The chaos of Thailand streets with elephant calf tied to mother in the traffic. (Photo used with permission.)

The phajaan process to 'break' an elephant. (Photo used with permission.)
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