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Sweet smell of success
  1. Deborah F Salerno
  1. Clinical Communications Scientist, Pfizer Global Research and Development, Michigan Laboratories, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105, USA;

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    In the medina of Fès, an acrid stink leads you to the tanneries, the most pungent souks (markets). Visitors grasp sprigs of mint to abate the smell. Redolent of medieval life, soft hides are stomped with red, yellow, and brown dyes. In the high noon sun or bone chilling air, men and boys squat over, or stand in the colourful (albeit toxic) giant vats.

    A challenge in the informal sector, such as parts of Morocco’s famous leather industry, is that it is less regulated, and perhaps, less safe. This raises the importance of smart choices, influenced by all the social, economic, and cultural factors that affect behaviour. Successful traditional methods can benefit from innovations, such as those that increase productivity and reduce pollution from heavy metal laden effluents. Large wastewater projects developed in Fès and Casablanca are evidence that plants for water treatment and recycling chromium can meet modern safety standards.


    In some parts of the world, the organisation of work is moving from hierarchical to a flatter organisation. With this power shift, leadership is required of every worker, with the capacity to make independent decisions. On the bright side, a flatter organisation can offer workers more authority and autonomy. While increasing personal choice is generally attractive, when it comes to health and safety on the job, relying on individuals to protect themselves is the least desirable form of protection. The preference is to engineer hazards out of the workplace.


    Eventually, codes of conduct need to be developed to protect health and safety of workers throughout the world. In the USA, most Fortune 500 companies already have codes of conduct or voluntary initiatives for socially responsible, sustainable business. Voluntary standards such as ISO 9000 for quality, ISO 14000 for environmental management, and the hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) food safety system are becoming mandatory for trade. By the same token, global standards need to reflect the current reality of labour,1 and promote health and safety with enlightened, fair minded policy.


    Thanks to concerted action by consumers and producers, fair trade certification is already available for certain agricultural products (for example, coffee, cocoa, sugar, bananas). Manufactured products are future candidates for Fairtrade certification. Ethical issues have boosted the Trade Justice Movement in the UK with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) outlining a range of international labour standards and health and safety requirements. In the USA and Canada, Fair Trade is marketed via Ten Thousand Villages, SERRV, Equal Exchange, Global Exchange, and Bridgehead. With impressive buying power, consumers may yet have the greatest impact on how products are manufactured and food is grown, how items are processed and delivered, and ultimately, who profits in the scheme of things.


    Unfortunately, low literacy and low levels of training in many areas dampen available choices or hopes of the sweet smell of success. Although awareness of health and safety problems is low among workers in the informal sector, awareness of ways to improve working conditions is even lower. Clearly, the reward of formal education in developing skills is of great consequence. Progressive leaders can shape policies to comply with international labour standards (providing effective enforcement). Beneficiaries are the artisans and workers in the small scale industries, and those who purchase their wares.

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