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After a two-year delay in our holiday booking due to the Covid pandemic, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a two-week holiday in Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) on the island of Sal. We’ve been lucky enough to visit the islands several times over the last ten years. Our first visit was to Boa Vista but since the hotel that we liked no longer seemed to be available through our tour operators, we ended up going to Sal. When we first visited Boa Vista, there was little to be found outside of the hotel other than deserted beaches and the crashing of the Atlantic waves on the seashore. There was a very large hotel on the other side of the island and a smattering of smaller hotels dotted around, but that was it. After several visits we began to notice that other hotels were popping up along the seashore and there was a definite sense of development to cater for the holiday trade. The same can be said of Sal. The first hotel we visited had only just been built and there were the foundations of other buildings creeping up alongside but in the main, it seemed pretty deserted. Now though there are hotels everywhere and a fairly new very large one not that far away from where we stayed.
The first thing you notice as a visitor to the islands is that this is not an affluent country, far from it. Take a short trip into the town centre and you very rapidly see and sense the pervading poverty. This is a former Portuguese colony, and it comes as no surprise that it played a strategic role in the slave trade until the late nineteenth century whereupon it saw a rapid economic decline. Tourism has boosted the economy and plays a significant role in the country’s population, and this became even more evident during our latest visit. The country is only just recovering from the pandemic and several of the hotels were still mothballed as were the various businesses along the sea front. I’m not sure what the situation was or is in the country with regards to welfare, but I wouldn’t mind betting that they’d never heard of the word furlough, let alone implemented any such scheme. Quite simply no tourism means no work and no work means no wages, such as they are. In conversation with a number of the staff at the hotel, it became obvious that they were not only pleased we were there, but that they wanted us to return again. We were often asked if we would come back and one person, I spoke to pleadingly asked us to return as ‘we need the job’. Of course, it’s not just us that need to return, it’s all the tourists. Tourism supports so many aspects of the economy, not just jobs in hotels but local businesses as well. I think the fact that we keep going back there says something about the lovely people that we’ve been privileged to meet.
But then as I sat one night contently sipping a gin and tonic, debating whether I should have another before dinner, I began to think about whether all of this was ethical. The hotel we stayed in was part of a large international chain. Nearly all the hotels are part of large multinational corporations servicing their shareholders. Whilst my relaxation and enjoyment is great for me, it is on the back of the exploitative nature of the service industry. A business that probably doesn’t pay high wages, those working in the service industry in this country can probably attest to that, so goodness knows what it’s like in an impoverished place such as Cape Verde. My enjoyment therefore promotes exploitation and yet vis-a- vie enables people to have much needed work and pay. Of course, I may have this all wrong and the companies are pouring millions into the country to improve living standards for the inhabitants, and they may pay wages that are very reasonable. But somehow, because of the nature of business, and the eye on profit margins, I very much doubt it. When businesses consider business ethics, I wonder how far they cast the ethical net? As for me, it’s a bit of Catch 22, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But then so much of life seems to be like that.