When I introduced GoodWeave’s U.S. initiative in 2000 (then called Rugmark), I shared a small office space with the International Labor Right Forum, which helped with the launch of the organization. Rugmark was initially founded by Indian human rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. He had conducted surprise raids on carpet factories to rescue exploited child laborers, and realized that if you rescue 100 kids today, the following day another 100 kids will have replaced them. Therefore, he saw a need to create a market mechanism to change the system from within—a standard that would induce businesses to do the right thing in terms of hiring underage workers and propel to consumers to demand it.
GoodWeave has offices in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Nepal, and India. Our mission is to end exploitative child labor in the handmade rug industry. Our standard is voluntary. Factory owners who sign the licensing agreements with us agree to open their doors to these inspections, and as a result we have open access. Thus, companies that join GoodWeave and meet the strict no-child-labor standards are issued unique, traceable certification labels for their carpets. Under the guidelines of the certification program, local inspectors in Nepal and India visit licensed manufacturers on a surprise, random basis.
We monitor production facilities on average once a month and we use a second pair of inspectors to guard against corruption. Inspectors are used in in rotation so that no two inspectors are regularly visiting the same production site together, which if all goes accordingly, the reports from the inspectors substantiate one another. However, there are monitoring challenges since some of the production loom sites are somewhat inaccessible and are spread out geographically. Yet our results speak for themselves, over the past fifteen years, GoodWeave has succeeded in reducing the number of children weaving rugs from one million to 250,000, and has labeled more than 7.5 million child-labor-free rugs worldwide. Today, there are nearly eighty GoodWeave certified brands carried by an estimated 1,000 retail outlets throughout North America. Every brand labeled, retailer joined and rug sold contributes directly to keeping South Asia’s looms child-labor-free and helps break the vicious cycle of poverty that perpetuates the exploitation of children.
Although it’s a rare instance, we have had to de-license exporters who do not adhere to the standard. More often, we find instances of child labor when a factory first approaches GoodWeave to become a member. We conduct an initial visit before they become a licensee, and if evidence of child labor is found, we give them an opportunity to clean up their labor practices and get in compliance with our standard. When our inspectors actually find children working, they remove them from the looms immediately.
After being reunited with their families whenever possible, rescued children are offered a fully sponsored education through grade ten or the age of eighteen--whichever comes first. Each rescued child is matched with an educational program, depending on whether they need to be close to home or at a boarding school. Children start with intensive literacy and math training to prepare them for formal education. The curriculum includes language training, social studies, math, and science. We also provide recreational activities and extracurricular pursuits in music and art. The schools that are affiliated with GoodWeave encourage high academic standards, and every effort is made to help children continue their education through high school. At the age of fourteen, children have the option to enter a vocational training program to learn locally marketable skills, such as auto and motorcycle repair, tailoring, and electrical wiring.
Our programs also facilitate the prevention of child labor and the healthy development of weaving communities. These include daycare and early childhood education, school sponsorship for children of adult weavers, adult literacy programs and health clinics. In total, over 9,000 children have received schooling and/or rehabilitation as of 2008, funded entirely through donations to GoodWeave and the certification and sale of GoodWeave rugs.
Last year we formed a partnership with the Global Fund for Children (GFC) launched to strengthen community-level programs in the carpet-weaving belt of Uttar Pradesh, India. The Global Fund for Children boasts fifteen years of experience working with grassroots social programs in India that serve the most vulnerable children and youth. Global Fund for Children is working with GoodWeave to identify, vet, co-fund, and evaluate community-based programs that contribute to the elimination of child labor through education, advocacy and other direct services. Last May, the GFC-GoodWeave partnership kicked off with two pilot initiatives in the state of Varanasi.
In addition, we work with a broad range of partners, including interior designers, rug companies, media publishers and nonprofit organizations, to bring positive change to rug-weaving communities and stem the tide of child labor. These include:
- The U.S. Fund for UNICEF (USF) and other UNICEF offices have supported GoodWeave’s child rescue and rehabilitation work since the organization’s inception in 1994. In 2009, USF became the sole national co-sponsor for GoodWeave’s touring photo exhibit Faces of Freedom to bring the issue of child labor in the rug industry into the public spotlight. The exhibit has since reached more than 150,000 viewers in more than a dozen cities across the United States.
- The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) helps educate interior designers and their clients about the child-labor-free certification.
- High-profile shelter, design and consumer media to donate in-kind services in the form of advertising and related promotions, as advertising is a critical vehicle for creating awareness for the GoodWeave label found on child-labor-free certified rugs. Our print media sponsors, including dwell, Interior Design and Luxe Interiors + Design, our online media sponsors, including ApartmentTherapy.com and inhabitat.com.
Unfortunately one of the challenges we face is the continuing weak economy, which has had a significant impact on the import of handmade rugs and ultimately our programs that are in part funded through license fees tied to rug imports. The value of handmade rugs imported to the US has experienced an accelerating decline over the past three years. In particular, there is a trend of consumer down-trading, whereby purchasers of handmade rugs are seeking out lower-priced rugs, which affects GoodWeave in a few ways. The majority of GoodWeave’s North American imports are currently high-end rugs from Nepal, which have experienced a precipitous drop in market share as a result of this market trend. Furthermore, as our license fees are based on export values rather than sheer numbers of rugs, lower-cost rugs translate into fewer dollars for our programs in the field.
Regardless of these challenges, GoodWeave has seen its U.S. market share rise, now at three percent as we’ve added more and more rug companies to our roster. GoodWeave USA also recently celebrated a huge victory, with Macy’s agreeing to carry GoodWeave certified rugs in the 150 Macy’s stores nationwide that have rug departments. Rugs are now being prepared for shipment and should be in stores by early 2011. Recruiting such large retailers will help offset losses related to market declines, but the economic trends are a continuing concern, both for our organization and the livelihoods of the weavers in communities we serve.
For more information about GoodWeave USA, please visit www.goodweave.org