by Nina SmithFrom the Summer, 2007 issue of Values
This column highlights selected groups and organizations working to promote social and economic justice, environmental leadership, or corporate accountability. Walden frequently partners with featured groups in research and advocacy initiatives.
While you are reading this, over 300,000 children in South Asia are being exploited and forced to work illegally in the handmade rug industry. Some are bonded laborers living as virtual slaves, others are employed/working for a pittance in dangerous factories. All are being exploited and forced to work in violation of their own countries’ laws. And the carpets they weave end up in American homes.
RugMark International is working to stop child labor/exploitation in India, Nepal, and Pakistan through loom and factory monitoring, consumer labeling, and rescuing, rehabilitating, and educating former child weavers.
In North America and Europe, Rugmark recruits importers and retailers to sell certified child-labor-free rugs, requiring these businesses to open the doors of their overseas production sites to random, surprise inspections. By adhering to RugMark’s strict no child labor guidelines, manufacturers receive the right to use the RugMark® certification on the back of a rug, offering the best possible assurance that no child labor was employed. The individually numbered label also verifies that a portion of the purchase price helps educate children.
Rugmark is already a successful model: In just over a decade and with one percent of the total market of handmade rugs it has reduced the number of child weavers by two-thirds. To reach the remaining “carpet kids,” RugMark USA recently launched a national consumer awareness campaign, The Most Beautiful Rug. It educates people to make humanitarian purchasing choices, sending a message up the supply chain—from consumer to retailer to manufacturer—that child labor won’t be tolerated. The core campaign message is that a rug made by child labor is ugly no matter what it looks like, and that the RugMark® ensures a rug’s inner beauty.
RugMark is encouraging major U.S. retailers, such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, to sell certified rugs. If the biggest retailers commit to selling child-labor-free carpets, RugMark could quickly meet its goal of 15 percent market share, the projected tipping point to end child labor on an industry-wide basis.
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