The Sherpas’ Guide to Ethical Behavior

NEPAL – The recent death of 16 Sherpas in an avalanche on Mount Everest has brought inconsolable grief to their loved ones. Unfortunately, the pain of their loss will be compounded by economic hardship, highlighting the responsibility that rich-country consumers often must bear, both before and after such workplace catastrophes in developing countries.

The death toll in Everest’s worst-ever disaster was small compared, for example, to last year’s collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 workers. But the consequences for the victims’ families are similar, and the lessons are the same – a need for sweeping changes in attitudes and behavior among all involved.

While climbing the world’s highest mountain will always be dangerous, we must remember that on this occasion only Sherpas died, and in the years since Everest began attracting large inflows of Western climbers, Sherpas have accounted for most fatalities.

Such statistics sit uneasily with the idea of climbing as a symbol of comradeship and teamwork. When Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary became the first people to reach Everest’s peak in 1953, everyone shared the risks, challenges, and joys of the adventure. The recent Sherpa deaths, however, suggest a breakdown of these values – and possibly of some basic human values, too.