Does your trekking company have a Porter Protection Policy?

Porters and our in-country support teams are a vital part of our trekking staff. We value their role in the delivery of our adventure tours and it would be impossible to operate many of our trips without them!

We use the IPPG guidelines as a starting point for ensuring safe and fair working conditions for our teams of porters who support our trekking itineraries in different destinations around the world.

What are the issues affecting porters around the world?

In many developing countries, tourism has provided a level of income that would have otherwise been unachievable for local workers. Tourists and adventure travellers from wealthy countries travel to these areas to trek and climb in the mountains, which then provides employment and business opportunity for local communities to fulfil the required support roles.

However, whenever two groups with an extreme difference in wealth interact economically there is potential for exploitation. Worse still, when travelling into extreme environments, many tour operators do not extend standards of safety and well-being to their local support staff. Pushing workloads and conditions that would surely be illegal in the western country of origin.

In countries such as Nepal, India, Peru, Tanzania a lack of alternatives employment opportunities for rural mountain communities has made the comparative high pay from this kind of work worth the risks and poor working conditions for some. With local average wages as low as $80 per month it is easy to see why people would take extra risk for the chance of earning several months salary in wages and tips.

Unfortunately, companies still take advantage of this by cutting corners and not providing adequate equipment, safety practices or working conditions knowing that porters are forced to accept the conditions due to their economic situation.

Who are the IPPG?

The International Porter Protection Group aims to improve safety and health for porters working in the mountains for the trekking industry worldwide. They work to eradicate avoidable illness, injury and death. They do this by raising awareness of the issues among travel companies, guides, trek leaders, sirdars (porters foremen), and trekkers.

IPPG also supports porters in their quest for a decent wage and freedom from overloading.

“Working towards a Sustainable and Ethical Trekking Industry.”

The IPPG are involved in lots of good work from building porter shelters along popular trekking routes, providing medical support to fundraising and awareness-raising campaigns.

What are the 5 Porter Protection Guidelines?

The IPPG have developed 5 Trekking Ethics Guidelines to be followed to ensure the welfare needs of porters are being met.

1. Clothing appropriate to season and altitude must be provided to porters for protection from cold, rain and snow. This may mean: windproof jacket and trousers, fleece jacket, long johns, suitable footwear (boots in snow), socks, hat, gloves and sunglasses.

2. Above the tree line porters should have a dedicated shelter, either a room in a lodge or a tent (the trekkers’ mess tent is no good as it is not available till late evening), a sleeping mat and a decent blanket or sleeping bag. They should be provided with food and warm drinks, or cooking equipment and fuel.

3. Porters should be provided with life insurance and the same standard of medical care as you would expect for yourself.

4. Porters should not be paid off because of illness/injury without the leader or the trekkers assessing their condition carefully. The person in charge of the porters (sirdar) must let their trek leader or the trekkers know if a sick porter is about to be paid off. Failure to do this has resulted in many deaths. Sick/injured porters should never be sent down alone, but with someone who speaks their language and understands their problem, along with a letter describing their complaint. Sufficient funds should be provided to cover cost of rescue and treatment.

5. No porter should be asked to carry a load that is too heavy for their physical abilities (maximum: 20 kg on Kilimanjaro, 25 kg in Peru and Pakistan, 30 kg in Nepal). Weight limits may need to be adjusted for altitude, trail and weather conditions; experience is needed to make this decision. Child porters should not be employed.

What do we do as a responsible travel company?

We think it is important for tour operators to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of all of their staff, including porters and trek support teams. We do not think it is acceptable to simply pass these issues on to a local ground-operator with no active involvement in checking basic standards are met.

As a responsible travel company, we value the important role porters and in-country support staff play in the delivery of our tours and aim to work with our local partners to improve standards to those expected at home and champion implementation of external verification that these standards are being met.

We believe:

  • Porters and local support staff should be afforded the same treatment as our western staff.
  • Ignorance of sub-standard local conditions is not an excuse for an organisation not to protect the welfare and rights of people working on their tours/treks.
  • It is not right to use someones economic situation to pressure them into extremely demanding or dangerous work.
  • Regardless of the situation, it is also not right to send staff into extreme environments ill-equipped, under-prepared and without support.

We have written a Porter Protection Policy to turn these ethics into actions and commitments.

Without porters and our trek support teams we could not operate many of our trekking tours in the way that we do, they play a vital role that deserves recognition and remuneration.

What can I do as a consumer?

From buying coffee or bananas to booking your next adventure travel holiday it can be difficult to know that ethical and responsible treatment of staff, local communities and the environment makes it all the way down the supply chain. It is often the communities on the ground who deal with the fallout of mistreatment or management, rather than the corporate brands who interact with consumers. With food, the Fair Trade hallmark gives customers a chance to know that certain minimum requirements have been met, but in other industries, the picture is often less clear.

Rightly so, ethical consumers want the confidence that when booking a holiday they are not contributing to mistreatment or unfair working conditions for the local population.

Organisations such as the International Porter Protection Group offer some great advice on questions to proactively ask your tour operator or travel company. Through supporting companies with good practice consumers can force the wider industry to listen to the demand for responsibly operated tours and improve conditions across the sector.

The IPPG guidelines to trekking ethics can be found at www.ippg.net/trekking-ethics/. We have listed our answers to their questions below.

IPPG Questions to ask trekking companies:

Most importantly before you book your trek ask the travel company what their porter policy is (see below for questions to ask).

Our Porter protection policy can be found here.

1. Does the company follow IPPG’s five guidelines on porter safety?

Yes, it is our local ground-operators who directly employ the porters for our treks. We require them to demonstrate what they do to ensure they are following the 5 IPPG guidelines on porter safety and follow this up with evidence gathering and monitoring. We subscribe to external monitoring in destinations that have this set up on common routes, such as KPAP in Tanzania.

2. What is their policy on equipment and health care for porters?

All porters should be provided with equipment adequate to the environment they will be operating. This is written in to our policy and vetting and monitoring of ground operations. Porters are provided with insurance and access to medical care for the duration of their trips.

3. What do they do to ensure the trekking staff is properly trained to look after porters’ welfare?

Porter teams always have a head porter, who is responsible for managing the team and bringing up any welfare issues any porter on the team may have. Tour leaders are also made aware of our porter protection policy during their induction and given the power to address issues on the ground.

4. What is their policy on training and monitoring porter care by its ground operator in the country you intend to visit?

We work with our local ground operators, as well as external bodies such as NGOs, worker unions and porter protection organisations in our destination countries to agree standards that must be met. These standards are communicated to the head porters, as well as our tour leaders, to implement on the ground. We subscribe to external monitoring through methods such as porter questionnaires, tour leader feedback and customer feedback.

5. Do they ask about treatment of porters in their post trek feedback questionnaire to clients?

Absolutely! As well as asking whether you enjoyed your trip we also offer opportunity to comment on all areas of our responsible travel approach. We do this to enable us to continually improve our approach and see what is and isn’t working. In relation to porters, we ask if you believe the 5 IPPG guidlines were met and if you have any other concerns about the welfare of the support staff.

IPPG also offer the following advice:

Contact organisations which offer ethical trekking agreements to which trekking companies can sign up. For instance, Tourism Concern in the UK, IMEC in USA and Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project in Tanzania.

Finally, if you see porter mistreatment complain loud and long on the spot and once home complain to your travel company. Send a report of the incident to IPPG with as much detail as possible.

Resources

International Porter Protection Group – http://www.ippg.net/

International Mountain Explorers Concern (IMEC) / Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) -https://mountainexplorers.org/climb-with-a-partner-for-responsible-travel-company/

 

About Author

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James
Before founding 'The Grand Adventure Company' James worked in a variety of different roles from planning school expeditions around the world to organising high-altitude and remote mountaineering ventures. These roles led to all sorts of adventures from travelling across Mongolia in a 'Russian Forgon' delivering tourism training to remote Mongolian nomads to visiting communities damaged by the Nepal earthquakes to assess damage and setting up community projects in the regions. James is a qualified Mountain Leader, Leave No Trace trainer and expedition leader and holds membership to the British Mountaineering Council, the Mountain Training Association and aspirant membership to the British Association of International Mountain Leaders. In 2013 James cycled solo from London to Sydney. More recently, James completed the infamous '24 hour Bob Graham Round' and can usually be found in The Lake District running and cycling up mountains.

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