Updated: Dec 2, 2020
By Alex Berryman
Nepal has a big problem, and when you manufacture with Purnaa you help to address the issue in a sustainable and fair way. Nepal doesn’t have enough jobs to meaningfully support its people.
As a result, many Nepalis emigrate from their villages in hopes of finding better opportunities - but there are those that would use the desperation and search for jobs abroad as a means to exploit the poor for their labor.
COVID-19 has only made this issue worse. As businesses close and people lose jobs, many are increasingly desperate for ways to provide for their families and at high-risk for human trafficking and exploitation.
Here we explore the state of the labor industry in Nepal, identify who is most affected by the rising unemployment, and consider the impact Purnaa makes as a social enterprise committed to offering dignified employment to survivors of exploitation and those most at risk.
The Labor Industry in Nepal: Past and Present
Agriculture is 40% of Nepal’s GDP and employs 76% of the population - often taking the form of subsistence farming. Much of the remaining population works in the informal sector, with jobs ranging from day laborers to domestic workers. Workes can expect hard labor, little pay, and difficult working conditions, providing very little social mobility. Both the informal sector and much of agriculture go unregulated by the government. This makes it difficult to enforce labor laws that would otherwise offer protection to workers.
In hopes of finding better options, thousands of Nepali men and women each year emigrate to find work in India, Malaysia and the Gulf countries. Since 2000, emigration has become so commonplace that remittances make up 26.5% of Nepal's GDP. Unfortunately, the unfair work environments they were trying to escape in Nepal have often met them when they arrive abroad.
Migrants are recruited to work in construction, mines, farms, or as domestic workers; facing grueling work conditions and low pay. In 2019, a report broke of 1,400 Nepali migrants perished due to poor work conditions during the construction of the Qatar World Cup Stadium. Despite the national and international outcry, very little has been done to improve the plight of the Nepali migrant worker.
As with the rest of the world, COVID-19 has hit Nepal's economy very hard. National lockdowns and closed borders froze Nepal's small economy for 7 months in 2020. With most businesses forced to close, 31.5 % of those employed lost their jobs and 74% of those still working were not paid during the time of the lockdown. While these numbers are shocking, they do not even take into account the thousands of day laborers that rely on daily wages.
It is still unclear what the long-lasting impact of COVID-19 will be on the Nepali economy but we anticipate the biggest impact will be on the poor and marginalized. With many businesses permanently closed or crippled, there are fewer jobs to accommodate the growing numbers of unemployed. These challenging days make the mission of Purnaa more imperative than ever, to train and employ marginalized people. But who are the marginalized people that Purnaa focuses on helping?
Who are the Marginalized?
Marginalized people are those that have less access to opportunities or social support than the rest of society. They are the ones often discriminated against based on gender, caste, religion, HIV+ status, history of sex work. Others limit their access to healthcare, employment, education or representation in government. As a result, many marginalized people struggle to make ends meet and are forced into a "take what I can get" mentality, working underpaid, dangerous jobs with exploitative employment terms.
In hopes of finding better work (or at least higher pay), marginalized Nepalis are the most likely to migrate to the Gulf or to India. But in order to leave, many take loans or rely on "friends" to assist in their relocation. All too often those "friends" are con-men offering a Bait-n-Switch to trap them in exploitative contracts, sex trafficking, and even slavery. Many employees at Purnaa have previously experienced first-hand the misery that comes from being stuck in exploitative situations. You can read more about the positive impact having a good job at Purnaa has made in their lives in our 2020 Social Impact Report.
Why Purnaa Operates in Nepal
Purnaa was established in Nepal because we know the difference that a good and stable job can make as survivors work to overcome their challenging pasts. Our mission to empower fresh starts and fulfilled lives through excellent jobs is more important than ever in 2020 with unemployment continuing to rise in Nepal.
A dignified job and stable paycheck eliminate the daily worries of the working poor. Purnaa exists to train and hire survivors of exploitation and marginalized people at risk of exploitation. On a daily basis, we see first hand how a stable job equips whole families to break the cycle of discrimination and poverty.
Many Purnaa staff persevered through and then exited exploitative, abusive and/or discriminatory situations prior to working with us. A stable job empowers a person to provide for their family, create stability on their own terms, and plan for their future. At Purnaa, we run an annual survey based on questions from the WHO's Quality of Life Assessment. We see that, consistently, after working at Purnaa, many staff report higher levels of independence, self-sufficiency and self-confidence as well as drastically improved living standards. (You can read more in our Social Impact Report).
Throughout Nepal's 7 months of lockdown, Purnaa was able to stay open and produce masks for Nepal's healthcare workers. Not only were we able to contribute to helping healthcare workers fight COVID-19, but the ongoing work for Purnaa staff helped to reduce the risk of the vulnerable from sliding back into poverty or exploitation. We are so grateful for all the customers and friends that have weathered the storm of 2020 with us - without our production partners, this would not have been possible.
As we continue to look toward recovery after the pandemic, we anticipate many issues Nepal will face; with a larger unemployed workforce and fewer job opportunities, there will likely be an increase in discrimination, exploitation, and trafficking. Now more than ever, good employment has the power to make a difference for individuals and for a nation.
As we work to grow our social impact and create sustainable livelihoods for the marginalized in Nepal, we are offering new manufacturing capabilities and looking for the right strategic production partners. Will you join us? Reach out with your production needs today.
About The Issue:
UNDP - Rapid Assesment Of Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 In Nepal