Carpets free from child labor: More than 152 million children are forced into labor. Together we can restore their childhoods.
On April 16th, 1995, a 12-year-old boy named Iqbal Masih was fatally shot while riding his bike in his hometown in Pakistan. He had escaped forced labor in the rug-weaving industry twice and had been to the US to speak out against the horror that had stolen his childhood. Widely considered to have been murdered for his activism, Masih became a symbol of the struggle against child labor in the developing world.
Four years later and thousands of miles away, Iqbal’s story caught the attention of Nina Smith.
“I had read an article about Iqbal in Vanity Fair, and at the time was involved in fair trade work,” says Smith, who helped to start the Fair Trade Federation (see p. 72), a nonprofit association that supports fair trade businesses. “I became intrigued, because the article had mentioned this start-up RugMark [now GoodWeave] and talked about its founder, Kailash Satyarthi.”
Satyarthi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his anti-child-labor activism, founded GoodWeave in 1994 to help put an end to child labor in the handwoven rug industry, which exploits around 200,000 children in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and other South Asian countries. Children are sold by their families or kidnapped into working 12-hour days weaving carpets in often-abusive conditions.
Wanting to put her business acumen and fair trade background to work for this cause, Smith contacted Satyarthi, offering her skills. She was hired as GoodWeave’s founding executive director in 1999 and has held that position ever since. Today, Satyarthi works with the United Nations to bring attention to the problem of child labor and child slavery worldwide.
GoodWeave offers rug looms, importers, and exporters a certification program that guarantees their rugs have been produced without the work of child, bonded, or trafficked labor. To earn the certification, manufacturers agree to random factory searches to make sure they adhere to GoodWeave standards. Handwoven carpets produced by looms that are certified child-labor-free may bear the GoodWeave label.
Smith says it’s consumer demand that drives the industry toward the responsibility and transparency GoodWeave offers: “Getting companies to sign on to our independent certification program is about building a program that delivers them value. They give us access to their factories because their buyers are telling them to.”
In addition, GoodWeave offers short- and long-term support for the children they find during loom searches in South Asia. Social workers who belong to local NGOs work with GoodWeave to follow up with all of the rescued chlidren and offer counseling. GoodWeave provides the children with the opportunity to get an education.
Child weavers often work with dyes and other chemicals that are hazardous to their bodies and to the Earth. These chemicals also may end up in drinking water or in agricultural fields, since loom drainage often doesn’t go into proper sewage systems. That’s why GoodWeave includes a principle in its certification standards that producers not use azo dyes, which have been linked to cancer, and that they limit the use of hazardous solvents and colors. GoodWeave also asks producers to disclose all chemicals in use and to perform environmental impact assessments.
GoodWeave plans to expand to other sectors in the near future. A recent program, Better Bricks Nepal, creates a market preference for bricks made in kilns without child or bonded labor, and in safe working conditions.
“An apparel-sector project is also underway in North India, and we’re partnering with a big European retailer,” says Smith. “ We’re also starting a home-textiles project that goes beyond carpets, so there will be more coming soon. We’re in a big expansion period.”
About nine percent of the global production of handmade rugs carry the GoodWeave label, including brands that can be found at Target, Macy’s, and specialty carpet stores around the world. Though the organization has reduced child labor in the handwoven carpet industry by about 80 percent, from 1 million child laborers at its launch to around 200,000 today, Smith says there is more work to be done.
“Our 2020 goal is to reach a tipping point in the carpet industry,” she says.”We believe that if we can certify somewhere between 15-20 percent of the market, we will have achieved an industry-wide transformation and have set a new standard of operation.”