This is a term that can mean very different things to different people. To some, it means contributing to environmental causes to offset some of the bad effects of the pollution they contribute to as frequent flyers. To others, it means staying primarily at locally-owned hotels and patronizing independent restaurants, particularly in poorer countries, on the grounds that by doing so more of the money they spend stays in the community. Still others try to avoid for-profit businesses as much as possible, staying mainly at non-profit hostels, monasteries, and similar places.
While all these are good guidelines, the main guideline I try to follow is to treat the people I come into contact with while travelling as I would like to be treated, and to patronize companies that treat their workers well. The latter is getting harder to do, as more and more businesses are engaging in union-busting tactics. Here in Canada our national airline Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) seems to be trying to get out of its commitments to its workers by tactics such as spinning off subsidiaries (Aveos, Aeroplan, etc.) Aveos, which handled much of the airline's maintenance, has just filed for bankruptcy and locked out thousands of workers across Canada. Other workers such as baggage handlers at Air Canada are starting to engage in wildcat strikes to protest the slow pace of labout negotiations.
If you live in Canada, it is hard to avoid flying on Air Canada at least some of the time. However, I for one would be willing to pay a little more for my ticket if it would ensure fair treatment for the airline's workers.
In the United States, American Airlines (www.aa.com) recently filed for bankruptcy and expected to use this opportunity to void the contracts of long serving workers. So pilots, flight attendants and others may be working for a lot less money, and therefore may be understandably disgruntled.
Adverse conditions for workers are nothing new--history tells us that things were even worse in the 19th century, before unions forced employers to make concessions that made working less hazardous and more rewarding, and before governments in the developed countries enacted legislation that at least gave workers some rights and protections. Unfortunately many of these rights and protections are vanishing today. But perhaps if we as travellers began to express an interest in the welfare of the people who provide our travel services, it would have some effect even on giant corporations.