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How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

A Kilimanjaro tour is like no other.

The spectacular views combined with the satisfaction of knowing you’ve successfully completed a challenge that very few are fortunate enough to take on is indescribable.

There is literally no other feeling like it in the world.

But the first challenge associated with climbing Kilimanjaro is choosing the right tour operator.

Unfortunately, not all tour operators are created equal and some of the budget operators are only able to offer cheap prices at the expense of local communities and porters, who help tourists to climb Kilimanjaro.

Our mission at Fair Voyage is to end the practices associated with the unethical treatment of porters by educating climbers about what to look out for when booking a Kilimanjaro tour.

The truth is that many tour operators claim that they treat porters and other tourism workers ethically. It’s worth keeping in mind that sometimes, these claims are not always evident.

So with that in mind, we’ve outlined what you need to look out for when deciding whether your tour operator is ethical.

For more information and resources about Kilimanjaro and ethical travel, you can also visit our Climb Kilimanjaro Experience page. On that page, you can download our Climbing Kilimanjaro guidebook, view our frequently asked questions and get a quote.

Why is it important to book my Kilimanjaro tour with an ethical tour operator?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

Many of the budget tour operators are guilty of ignoring the human rights of Kilimanjaro porters and other local workers who are subjected to poor or dangerous working conditions and low pay. In extreme cases, porters have been found dead and left behind by their guides when they fell sick or had accidents.

Who are the Kilimanjaro porters?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

The Kilimanjaro porters are the dedicated men and women whose job it is to help tourists carry their gear to the summit. Most of the porters are local men between the ages of 18 and 40. They are hired alongside a team of trained professionals. They make it possible for tourists to navigate their way up the mountain.

Women are a smaller number of porters. They face the same challenges as the men, but with the added problem of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, this is still a reality for female porters.

Without the dedication and strength of these crew members, climbing Kilimanjaro would be a mere dream for many.

Do Kilimanjaro porters get a minimum wage?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

Although there is a minimum wage for Kilimanjaro porters, TZS 20,000 (ca. US $9), operators usually pay much less than that. Some porters do not get paid at all for their work.

As a result, porters rely on tourists to get a tip to feed their family. With budget operators, tourists may find that they are hassled to give a bigger tip than they ordinarily would. Many tourists pay these tips in the belief that it will help the porters.

However, what they may not realise is that all too often, porters may then be cheated out of any tips they earn by guides who instead of distributing the tips to the porters, will sometimes keep it for themselves.

How are porters exploited?

At Fair Voyage, we strive to create a safer working environment for tourism workers across the globe. With Kilimanjaro being one of our most popular destinations, we have a particular focus on ending the exploitation of porters in Tanzania, who often suffer the tragic consequences of unsafe working environments and low pay.

To understand the situation that many of these Kilimanjaro porters face, it is important to be aware of the hierarchy that exists. Unfortunately, as the situation currently stands, porters are at the bottom of the pecking order.

With so many tourism companies competing to offer the lowest prices, budget operators often try to take shortcuts to save money and this impacts porters the most, who may get low wages and poor working conditions as a result.

Most porters work on a freelance basis and many Tanzanians relocate to the Kilimanjaro region in the search for jobs. Unfortunately, however, they may even have to bribe one of the tour guides and pay an upfront ‘fee’ to get a job in the first place.

However, even those who do get a job are only slightly better off. Budget operators take advantage of the desperation of these workers and pay them the bare minimum they can get away with.

Why is it important for my safety that my porters are treated fairly?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

We believe that responsible tour operators who treat your porters fairly are also more likely to offer you, as a client, higher quality standards, and that porters who are treated fairly by their companies are also more likely to have your best interests in mind. That means first and foremost not your summit success, but your health and safety.

Amongst others, you rely on your porters for your water and food to be treated properly. In the worst case, you might have to rely on them for a safe descent. Will your porters be able to do a good job if they are hungry, cold and get paid significantly less than their colleagues camping right next to your group?

While there is no guarantee, we believe that booking your climb with responsible tour operators who treat your porters fairly will be the safer choice for you.

How do I know whether my tour operator is truly ethical?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a legally registered Tanzanian not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to supporting the fair and ethical treatment of Kilimanjaro porters.

KPAP helps porters by lending them clothing for free, providing educational opportunities and performing the monitoring activities for the Partner for Responsible Travel Program.

They encourage all companies to participate with the Partner Program and educate the climbing public about the importance of selecting an ethical climbing company. KPAP's porter treatment monitoring program regularly reviews company payment and tipping practices and obtains surveys from porters. KPAP also audits partner companies and provides feedback to them.

What is KPAP?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a legally registered Tanzanian not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to supporting the fair and ethical treatment of Kilimanjaro porters.

KPAP helps porters by lending them clothing for free, providing educational opportunities and performing the monitoring activities for the Partner for Responsible Travel Program.

They encourage all companies to participate with the Partner Program and educate the climbing public about the importance of selecting an ethical climbing company. 

Sometimes companies misrepresent themselves as being KPAP Partners and sometimes companies think they are KPAP Partners while in fact, they are not.

Therefore it’s not always easy to distinguish which companies are really operating fairly rather than simply making bold statements about porter welfare on their website to convince conscientious travelers.

This is not only confusing for travelers, but it’s also problematic for KPAP as it distorts the truth about what they stand for and what they work on.

There is only one way to make sure that you don’t fall into this misinformation trap. That is to always verify whether your tour operator is listed as a KPAP Partner for Responsible Travel on the International Mountain Explorers Connection website and not just believe what they state on their own website.

What is the KPAP/IMEC Partner for Responsible Travel Program?

The Partner for Responsible Travel Program (KPAP) for Mount Kilimanjaro assures that porters have the proper working conditions.

The Partner Program’s activities include:

  • Surveying porters to learn more about their working conditions
  • Reviewing the tipping procedures of travel companies, and ensuring porters are paid correctly
  • Placing a KPAP investigative porter on all partner company climbs to obtain an independent evaluation of the treatment standards
  • Providing feedback and recommendations to companies to help safeguard proper treatment of porters
  • Companies cooperating with the Partner Program do so on a voluntary basis.

Every climb of the Partner companies is evaluated and a company is approved and listed as a Partner if they are able to attain a minimum of an 85% performance grade every single climbing season by adhering to KPAP’s minimum porter treatment standards.

Can any tour operator become a KPAP Partner?

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

The KPAP Partner program is open to all tour operators. However, to qualify, companies must adhere to minimum fair porter treatment standards, as independently monitored by KPAP.

The criteria includes paying porters a minimum wage of 20,000 TSH per day. Wages must be paid within two days of a climb descent. Tipping procedures should be fair and transparent.

Porters must be provided with three daily meals and carry no more than 20kg during a climb. Proper shelter should also be provided as well as a check of proper clothing and medical attention for any work-related illness.

To qualify as KPAP Partners, companies must achieve an average score of 85% per season.

It is worth noting that companies enrolled with the KPAP Partner program also tend to learn a lot about their own operations through the climb audits and feedback provided by KPAP. People working at offices and selling climbs can be very detached from the realities on the mountain. Company owners and managers may have the best of intentions, but without KPAP’s independent monitoring, they may be unaware of the actual treatment of their porters.

Overcoming misconceptions about KPAP

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

While researching Kilimanjaro tour companies, you may come across some misconceptions about KPAP and what it stands for. To address this, we’ve listed some of the common myths that exist about KPAP. We’ve also addressed why the KPAP Partner Programme is the only reliable way to ensure porters on your Kilimanjaro climb are being treated fairly.

Some climbing companies claim to have their own internal porter monitoring programs. At Fair Voyage, we question the claims of such companies because there is no review by an independent organization separate from the company. As a result, it’s not possible to verify if they truly adhere to fair porter treatment standards.

Some companies may have arguments for why it’s not necessary to be a KPAP Partner. Unfortunately, these arguments often distort the truth of what KPAP does and stands for. That’s why we want to highlight the most used arguments and clarify what is not true about them.

  1. MYTH: KPAP porters are not being sufficiently trained/vetted

Some companies claim that they do not know the KPAP porters or their capacities. However, this statement does not match with reality. KPAP performs trainings twice a year with their investigative porters and makes sure that they assign porters with sufficient experience for each route. Many high-quality operators are using KPAP porters and are thereby proof that this is not an issue.

  1. MYTH: KPAP collects confidential personal client info

Some companies claim they don't want to release their climb schedules because of their high profile clients. No specific client details are required. The company informs KPAP of the route, start and end dates of the climb, and the number of climbers. These are kept strictly confidential and under no circumstances will KPAP receive the identity of the climbers. KPAP has never and will never ask for the identity of climbers. Several 5 * luxury operators with VIP clients are KPAP partners and thus the best proof that this is not a concern.

  1. MYTH: KPAP has its own climbing operations

This is not true. KPAP is a non-profit organization and has never sold any climbs. When KPAP receives requests from climbers or agents they refer such inquiries to their complete list of partner companies.

  1. MYTH: KPAP is not necessary to bring meaningful improvement to porter welfare standards

Some companies claim that they don’t need the help of KPAP to improve their operations and porter welfare standards. In their opinion, KPAP’s involvement is beneficial when a company has no time to monitor their own work and see whether their porters and other crew members are treated in accordance with porter welfare standards.  

However, none of those internal monitoring efforts are independent and as such, it is not possible to ascertain whether their initiatives are legitimate or not. What makes KPAP different from any type of internal monitoring is that KPAP is independent. It has no specific interest in any company whatsoever. KPAP does its work to accomplish its mission of improving the working conditions of porters. As a result, its audits and criteria for companies to become partners are completely objective and transparent.

Conclusion

kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

Choosing an ethical tour operator ensures the safety of both yourself and your porters.

Unfortunately, you will find that many budget tour operators do not uphold these standards. This is because the way some of them are able to offer the lowest prices is they cut corners, for example, by neglecting to pay their porters fairly.

Other companies may claim that they have their own monitoring systems to ensure fair porter treatment. However, it is not always clear whether these processes are effective in helping to improve the working environment and conditions for Kilimanjaro porters.

Therefore, one of the best and most reliable ways to ensure that the company you book your climb with are truly ethical is to check whether they are a KPAP Partner.

KPAP is the only independent organization that actively monitors and enforces the fair treatment of Kilimanjaro porters.

Their strict standards and safeguards means that you can be sure that any KPAP Partner company treats its tourism workers fairly and ethically.

By choosing an ethical tour company, you are helping to improve the quality of Kilimanjaro climbs and making a significant difference in the lives of the men and women who help tourists to climb Kilimanjaro.

Find out more information about Kilimanjaro and the ethical tours we offer by visiting our Climb Kilimanjaro Experience page.

About the author

Janine is a travel content writer and blogger, with a background in marketing and journalism. She loves travelling and uses her writing to share her passion for responsible travel with others.
kilimanjaro tour, How to tell whether your Kilimanjaro tour operator is ethical

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