'We must all buy into ethical practices,' says Levison Wood

Businesses have a duty to ensure supply chains are ethical but the public at large needs to buy into sustainability if goals are to be achieved, according to the adventurer Levison Wood.

Wood, who will be the main speaker at the CIPS Annual Dinner in June (picture by Tom McShane), said supporting less advantaged communities through the supply chain was more effective than aid, which could create a culture of dependence.

“There is an onus for ethical management and to be sustainable where you can,” said Wood. “Certainly within the travel industry, there are lots of incentives to support local communities wherever possible.

“It’s far more empowering when you create business opportunities for local people, and enable them to fulfil their potential through the supply chain.”

Charitable and aid work in such communities, while not without its benefits, said Wood, can create a culture of dependence that’s simply not sustainable in the long term.

The general public, he added, should also be more aware about where the products and services they used are sourced. “I think people today are more conscious about how things are produced. It’s becoming increasingly important, but there’s always more than can be done. It’s down to businesses to ensure the supply chains are ethical, but ultimately everyone needs to buy into the concept of ethical practices for it to work.”

Wood has walked the 4,250-mile length of the river Nile and trekked the Himalayas from Afghanistan to Bhutan, so it’s likely he’ll have plenty to talk about when he takes to the stage at the CIPS Annual Dinner on 7 June in London.

Along the way, the former paratrooper has braved malaria-filled swamps, civil war and survived a car crash, although he insists that he never seeks out danger. It just has a habit of finding him.

“I’m interested in anthropology and cultures so I choose places with a compelling narrative,” said Wood. “It’s about the people I meet along the way, not the level of danger that interests me. But it’s true, the places I travel to tend to be off the beaten track, and have been in the media for all the wrong reasons.”

For Wood, the real fascination about the frequently hostile environments he visits is how the people who live there face these challenges on a daily basis. And as a businessman, it’s also something he believes he can influence in some small way.

As well as being an explorer, Wood is the joint-founder of adventure travel company Secret Compass, and is acutely aware of his own responsibility to the communities where his business has an impact.

Wood’s passion for adventure and the great outdoors began at an early age when he would go off wondering near his childhood home in the Peak District. After completing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a stint in the army in the Parachute Regiment followed. “When I left the army, I thought ‘what’s next?’ I’d already done some travelling so I thought about taking it to the next level, and developing my photography skills along the way,” explained Wood.

It was while working as a photographer that Wood met Hollywood royalty and all-round good guy George Clooney. So is he really as nice as he seems? “George is absolutely lovely,” confirmed wood. “Really genuine and really passionate about South Sudan, which is where we met. He was there to do some advocacy work for persecuted people in the region, and he was in the mountains getting bombed along with the locals, and I respect that. He doesn’t just go and kidnap a baby and take it back to America.”

And the Dalai Lama? “I couldn’t get a word in edgeways,” Wood laughed. “He’s an absolutely fascinating character. He was telling me all about the plight of the Tibetan people.”

Even when he’s on British soil, Wood is seldom idle. “When I do get time to relax I enjoy swimming or doing a bit of yoga. But there’s another big expedition in the pipeline, so that’s keeping me busy at the moment,” said Wood. He won’t elaborate on the detail, apart from that he’ll be out of the country later in the year. Before then, if he gets chance –“which is unlikely” – he’d love to disappear for a few days to a beach in Thailand. “That’s my spiritual home,” he admitted. Because even explorers need to put their feet up sometimes.

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