You might be planning your trip to climb Africa’s tallest mountain, but in the process of choosing a tour operator, you became aware of the importance of fair porter treatment and responsible travel practices.
That’s a legitimate concern as, historically, porters of all mountain areas may not have good working conditions. Of the more than 20,000 porters on Mount Kilimanjaro, many of them may not be treated properly.
The main problems are a lack of compensation and an unsafe working environment. For example, they may receive a salary below the government announced minimum wage, have poor quality tents and overcrowded sleeping conditions, and may only get one meal per day. In extreme cases, porters have died.
Fortunately, different porter welfare organizations are trying to change things for the better. They assist companies in implementing fair porter treatment practices.
However, not all porter welfare organizations are applying similar standards or have the same level of transparency. This may also apply to various climbing companies.
Consequently, as a traveler, it’s sometimes confusing to figure out who you can trust. How can you be sure that the Kilimanjaro porters that will accompany you on your climb are treated fairly?
Therefore, it’s important to know what to look for when selecting a tour operator to climb Kilimanjaro. This will help you to find out whether they are a legitimate, responsible company and who is monitoring fair porter treatment.
At Fair Voyage, we follow strict criteria when we source our partners to ensure Kilimanjaro porters are treated fairly on all our climbs.
To understand why it’s crucial that porters are treated fairly, it’s necessary to get some more clarity on what the issues are and how porter welfare programs try to solve this.
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.
Read more about what fair porter treatment entails on our Climb Kilimanjaro Experience page.
Fortunately, porter welfare organizations are trying to solve this for the better.
What are porter welfare organizations and what do they do?
Porter welfare organizations are trying to support the fair and ethical treatment of Kilimanjaro porters.
They do this by monitoring how companies treat their porters and by providing counsel to both the company and the porters about how to ensure proper treatment. They might also lend clothing and equipment to the porters to make sure they have the appropriate gear to do their job safely. It is also possible that organizations that advocate for porter welfare, campaign for better wages on the porter’s behalf.
Even though there are a few organizations in Tanzania that focus on porter welfare, there may be differences between their monitoring procedures and their methods for objectively and independently examining a company’s treatment practices.
Consequently, companies who say they adhere to fair porter treatment standards do not always have to provide evidence of their actual treatment of porters. Since ethical and sustainable tourism is on the rise, companies may claim to be ethical to be more appealing to conscious travelers. It’s confusing for travelers to know who is really implementing fair porter treatment.
Therefore, it’s important to understand the differences between the various organizations that promote porter welfare.
Which porter welfare organizations exist and how do they differ?
There are several organizations in Tanzania that claim to improve porters’ welfare. Behind the scenes, there are important differences that clearly distinguish them from each other:
Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP): KPAP supports the fair and ethical treatment of Kilimanjaro porters. They monitor every climb of the partner companies to determine if they adhere to the porter welfare standards agreed upon by the Kilimanjaro stakeholders. KPAP provides feedback to help institute procedures that safeguard fair porter treatment. These audits take place twice a year during every climbing season. The partner companies are placed on the approved Partner list if they can prove they adhere to KPAP’s minimum standards by achieving at least an 85% performance grade on their scorecard twice a year.
Kilimanjaro Association of Tour Operators (KIATO): KIATO is an association of local tour operators. Tour operators pay a fee to be a member of the association. KIATO claims that their members adhere to ethical standards. It is not certain if KIATO actually monitors whether these standards are being met. For example, some of their members may pay lower wages to porters, less than US$7 per day.
Zara’s Mount Kilimanjaro Porters Society: Zara Tours is a Tanzanian tour company and has multiple charities, one of which is their Mount Kilimanjaro Porters Society. According to Zara Tours, their internal society provides its porters with health insurance, financial planning, health education and English language classes. However, this is a porters’ society associated with a climbing company who gives these porters employment. There is no independent proof that the basic treatment standards are being met. Porters may be afraid to speak up if the company is the source of their employment.
Additional Kilimanjaro Porter Societies include the Kilimanjaro Porters Association (KPA) and the Tanzania Porters Organization (TPO). Porters are required to register with one of the Porter Societies and pay an annual fee in order to climb Kilimanjaro. Comments from porters are generally not positive about the assistance provided by these societies.
Climbing companies may claim to have their own internal porter monitoring programs. However, none of these are examined by an outside and independent organization and, as such, it is not possible to ascertain whether their initiatives are legitimate or not.
To summarize, KPAP is the only organization that is fully independent of a climbing company as well as transparent in their reporting of their findings of a Partner company’s climbs. They apply strict procedures and they monitor their partner companies who must prove their commitment to fair porter treatment practices on an ongoing basis by objective measurements in order to qualify as KPAP Partner companies. The difference between KIATO and KPAP is that KPAP can demonstrate that the standards are being met through the scorecard performance every climbing season. Furthermore, KPAP differs from Zara’s Porter Society and every other internal porter monitoring program because KPAP is a completely separate organization from any climbing company.
At Fair Voyage, we believe it’s important to share with you as a traveler what those differences are because we want to be able to guarantee that all climbs we promote are ethical and adhere to the highest porter welfare standards. Therefore, we only work with companies that are officially approved and qualified KPAP partners. This is our benchmark to guarantee fair porter treatment on all our climbs.
If you, as a traveler, want to be sure that you are booking an ethical climb, the only way to do so is by contracting your climb with an approved KPAP partner company.
Let’s have a more detailed look at which services KPAP delivers.
What is KPAP?
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.
KPAP is an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), a US 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and was launched in 2003.
What is IMEC?
One of the main objectives of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC) is to provide sustainable and ethical connections between tourists and people living in developing mountain regions of the world.
Since 2003, IMEC has focussed on improving the working conditions of Kilimanjaro porters, through its local initiative KPAP.
The IMEC is a nonprofit organization that provides porter assistance programs and educates the public about the importance of choosing socially responsible tour companies that treat porters fairly.
IMEC created the Partner for Responsible Travel Program to highlight those companies adhering to proper treatment practices. All companies are welcome to collaborate with the Partner Program. However, there are strict screenings and criteria to which a company must adhere to be able to become a partner.
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.
You can find the list of approved Partners for Responsible Travel on the website of the International Mountain Explorers Connection.
Can any tour operator become a KPAP partner?
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.
KPAP’s work is essential for Fair Voyage to be able to ensure that all our climbs are ethical and respect fair porter treatment and responsible travel practices.
Why are internally run porter monitoring programs less trustworthy compared to an independent organization like KPAP?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What are our responsible travel criteria for Kilimanjaro operators?
For Kilimanjaro climbs, we only promote verified ethical climbs that are independently monitored by the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). All local outfitters (and their international agents) have to be listed amongst the approved KPAP Partner companies on IMEC's official website. Read why:
The predominant problem caused by Kilimanjaro tourism is the exploitation of porters. The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is the only independent organization that monitors porter treatment practices locally. Their Partner for Responsible Travel program is free and open for all duly licensed tour operators to join. To become an approved partner, outfitters have to prove their adherence to minimum fair porter treatment practices via KPAP's independent monitoring.
As KPAP is the only independent organization that offers such a program, we cooperate with KPAP and make participation with the KPAP Partner for Responsible Travel program mandatory for all our tour operator partners who offer Kilimanjaro climbs. This requirement also applies to global or regional tour operators who wish to partner with us for other destinations.
To make sure that you’re booking an ethical climb and that your Kilimanjaro porters will be treated fairly, verify that your tour operator is listed on the official list of approved KPAP Partner companies on IMEC’s website.
Environmental damage and pollution is not such a big problem on Mount Kilimanjaro as it is for other destinations. The Kilimanjaro National Park has a TITO (Trash In Trash Out) policy which they monitor closely.
How can I check if my preferred company is truly a KPAP partner?
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.
Fair Voyage was founded by a mission to promote fair porter treatment as well as creating more transparency for the climbing public.
Therefore, Fair Voyage only promotes Partners of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) because they are the only ones who are doing a fair porter treatment audit. This way, minimum fair treatment practices are ensured.
As KPAP is the only independent organization that monitors Kilimanjaro climbs, this is the best and only way to ensure that we are promoting ethical climbs.
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 a responsible tour operator and guides who treat your porters fairly will be the safer choice for you.