Photo: TristanBalme/Shutterstock

The Ethics of Porters

Tanzania Activism
by Catherine Thompson Feb 10, 2010
Catherine Thompson questions the ethical treatment of porters while hiking Kilimanjaro.

One more deep breath and another step. I can see my goal.

I’m so close and then I’m there: the first person of the morning to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. The sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the glaciers. I’m lucky enough to have arrived before the hoards of other climbers.

The five days of walking, two blisters and 5, 895 meters were completely worth it.

However, the thrill of my success was tempered by concern. During the climb, I grew wary of how the porters accompanying us were treated.

We had two guides and many porters with us; they carried our tents, our food, and equipment. They taught me some Swahili. Our head guide even pulled an extra sweater from his pack when I was freezing.

Without these men, I would not have accomplished my goal.

As I got to know the porters who walked with us everyday, I learned about the conditions they worked under. I found out that they crowded into the kitchen tent to sleep after we ate and subsisted on the group’s leftovers for food. Many of the porters had no warm clothes, only t-shirts and open-toed sandals.

I saw men tossing supplies over bushes at a checkpoint to pass weight inspection before picking up the items on the other side.

According to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project,

“The Kilimanjaro National Park recommends that a porter carry 20 kg for the company, but the average reported weight is 23 kg and can be as high as 30 kg.”

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

I explored the streets of Moshi on the day after our climb and came across the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project. All my suspicions were confirmed. They told me that porters are often underpaid, underfed and not properly equipped for the conditions on the mountain.

We found out that most of the porters never receive the portion of the tip meant for them. (We made the mistake of giving our tip to the head guide and expecting he would divide it among the men.)

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project is dedicated to improving the conditions of the porters who climb Kilimanjaro. They teach classes, provide first aid certification and lend warm clothing to porters for their climb. The organization also educates the public about the porters’ working conditions and gathers information to help monitor travel companies’ treatment of porters.

Even though climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was an amazing experience, I now know that it is ethically important for travelers to be aware of the working conditions of porters before using their services.

After learning more about the porters during our five days on the Rongai Route, we donated two sleeping bags and our coats to the porters.

What you can do

Consult a list of companies that treat their porters with respect.
Visit the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project.


Our own Matador associate editor, JoAnna Haugen, co-founded a fund for Machu Picchu Porters.

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