UIAA Creates “Mountain Worker Initiative” to Improve Conditions for Mountain Workers Worldwide

High-altitude workers have long been subject to hazardous work conditions and practices. With their new Mountain Worker Initiative, the UIAA hopes to help the situation.

A porter carrying a heavy load on the trek to Everest Base Camp.
A porter carrying a heavy load on the trek to Everest Base Camp.Enselme Arthur

For years, porters and other mountain workers have navigated dangerous, demanding work environments with low compensation. Unfortunately, there is little across-the-board oversight to ensure any workers’ rights. With international adventure tourism growing and economic repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic amplifying things, the problem isn’t getting any better.

As a result, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), is creating a Mountain Worker Initiative (MWI) with the aim of establishing, disseminating, and supporting “guidelines for ethical trekking and mountaineering practices worldwide, with a focus on the lives of mountain workers.”

This will begin with a rollout of general guidelines, and later follow with “a collaborative effort at Everest and throughout Nepal with the NMA [Nepali Mountaineering Association] and TAAN [Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal].” While the specifics of the guidelines and regulations have yet to be officially posted, the UIAA indicated that this initiative is planned for far more than just the Himalaya. As the MWI moves forward, the UIAA will modify the regulations to fit in line with the diverse requirements in the variety of countries and regions where mountain workers are employed.

The initiative was reportedly catalyzed by the recent documentary film The Porter: The Untold Story at Everest. The film depicts Nathaniel James Menninger, a young American, as he attempts to live and work as a porter on Everest (needless to say, he has a rough go of it). The full documentary is available on YouTube.

In order to raise money for the endeavor, the UIAA is accepting donations, and has committed to sending 100% of proceeds towards creating and implementing these ethical trekking guidelines and social welfare proposals.
The official launch of the MWI takes place on March 19, and the UIAA is hosting a free-of-charge online screening of The Porter, followed by a Panel Q&A to commemorate the event. It will mark the first of their new Mountain Network Series of webinars, which will focus on a plethora of issues in the climbing community, from sustainability to safety.