In places like Nepal or the Inca trail, it is most likely you will be using the services of a porter to carry supplies such as food, sleeping bags, tents, and so on. Luckily, in Peru, porters' rights are now protected by law. However, there are many companies that find ways of getting around the law, and are still exploiting the local porters. The minimum wage in Peru, for example, is 45 Soles a day, but reports suggest that still only a small proportion pay this and even this amount is barely a living wage. A good responsible tourism company will pay twice or three times this much. Same goes for the laws about the maximum weight they should carry. The law in Peru is 20kg max which includes 5kg for the porter’s personal possessions. There are weighing stations, but some companies spread the load to get through the stations and then drop the bags after the station for the porters to pick up. And then there are basics to adhere to, like ensuring these porters are fed and clothed properly, insured and given dry, warm sleeping areas.
In Nepal, it’s tempting to think of your porters or guides as heroic individuals who can trek Everest Base Camp carrying two packs, while wearing flip flops and an old jumper with no apparent discomfort. Although their knowledge and expertise is invaluable to us hikers, and the money they earn as guides is vital for their very survival, Nepalese porters have been found to suffer four times as many accidents as trekkers
, and reports of porters being forced to carry up to 40kg are not uncommon. Reports of porters being abandoned by tour groups when they fall ill are not unusual and porters have even been abandoned in life-threatening blizzards while trekkers were rescued by helicopter. This is simply not on.
What you can do
Be wary, read up on it, and ask your trekking company endless questions about their ethical trekking policies. A great starting point is Tourism Concern's website, the human rights in tourism charity which has an ongoing campaign for porters' rights around the world. They answer lots of FAQ's on the subject here
. All tourists have a responsibility to make absolutely sure that the porters and guides accompanying them on their trek are not being taken advantage of. Ensure that your porters have proper clothing and footwear and consider the amount of weight your porters are carrying - 20kg is a reasonable, but probably maximum load per person – do you really need that extra change of clothes?
Ask about porters insurance and the provisions that are made for them should they fall ill, ensure that porters’ sleeping arrangements are comfortable and fair, and always make sure that your porters and guides are paid fairly - enquire about and agree rates BEFORE you set off to avoid uncomfortable conversations at the end of your trek. And if you see or experience something that you feel uncomfortable about then make it clear to your tour company that this is not acceptable.