Matt Wilkes / Adventure Medic Editor
We highlight the work of the International Porter Protection Group, including their recommendations for ethical trekking.
Climbing Kili, trekking to Everest Basecamp, dawn on the Inca Trail… experiences such as these are the highlights of our lives. But however hard we work to get up there, we didn’t do so alone. Snaking behind our groups were trails of local porters carrying food, water and shelter – helping us achieve to our goals and enjoy the mountains without the burdens of luggage.
Anyone who has taken such a trip will have come down humbled by what these men and women are asked to do in their daily work. And it can be hazardous work. Every year, trekking porters die unnecessarily in the mountains, mainly from altitude illness and hypothermia. They are often poorly equipped, paid a minimal wage for their efforts and frequently have to sleep without shelter.
Being an expedition doctor on a trip where the porters are poorly treated or inadequately equipped is a particularly dispiriting experience. On a professional level it makes your life much busier and on a personal level it is heartbreaking to see. You might have the best medical kit in the world, but we can guarantee it still won’t include enough jackets, backpacks and stout pairs of walking boots to remedy the situation.
The International Porter Protection Group was formed in 1997 to improve the working conditions of porters in the tourism industry. They aim for every porter to have access to adequate clothing, boots, shelter and food. They campaign for medical care for ill or injured porters and for proper insurance. They have also helped construct shelters and rescue posts, such as those at Machermo and Gokyo and work with Community Action Nepal (CAN), the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP), the Himalayan Rescue Association and Porters Progress UK.
The IPPG has released a set of Recommendations on Ethical Trekking. We at Adventure Medic wholeheartedly endorse these and would urge you to do so too. As an expedition doctor, you are in a unique position to insist that these recommendations are respected on your trips. If the organisers are unwilling to do so then please vote with your feet and refuse to take part.
The IPPG Recommendations on Trekking Ethics
1. Clothing appropriate to season and altitude must be provided to porters for protection from cold, rain and snow.
2. Above the tree line porters should have a dedicated shelter, either a room in a lodge or a tent, a sleeping mat and a decent blanket or sleeping bag.
3. Porters should be provided with life insurance and the same standard of medical care as one would expect for a trekker.
4. Porters should not be paid off because of illness/injury without assessing their condition carefully. The porters’ leader (sirdar) must let their trek leader or trekkers know if a porter is about to be paid off. Failure to do this has resulted in many deaths. Porters should never be sent down alone, but with someone who speaks their language and understands the problem. 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 (max: 20 kg on Kilimanjaro, 25 kg in Peru and Pakistan, 30 kg in Nepal). Weight limits should be adjusted for altitude & conditions; experience is needed to make this decision.
Update January 2020: IPPG is unfortunately no longer in operation. You can read more on their perspective around events leading to their closure here. We continue to thoroughly endorse the principles above as minimum ethical standards on any expedition.