Updated: Dec 3, 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?