By Grace Austin

Who knew buying a rug could help a child? Although shopping for home décor and ending child labor are not usually connected, for GoodWeave, a non-profit organization designed to help end child labor in the carpet industry of South Asia, they most certainly are. Since its founding in 1995, GoodWeave has helped the number of South Asian children bound in carpet-making decrease by 75%, from 1 million to 250,000. Nearly 8 million GoodWeave-certified carpets have been sold in Europe and North America since its founding. Currently GoodWeave has an estimated 5.2% of the handmade imported rug market share, a figure they hope to increase by more than 10% in the future.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., GoodWeave operates in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Nepal, and India. Indian human rights activist Kailash Satyarthi founded the company after witnessing first-hand the profits made from rugs created by child labor. Satyarthi wanted to create a market for certified child-labor-free products, which would effectively end the easily-replaceable market for child labor.

In 2000, Nina Smith helped launch GoodWeave in the United States, seeing the enormous difference the organization could make in a single industry’s supply chain. A fair trade advocate and marketing professional, Smith is now CEO of the organization.

“What appealed to me about GoodWeave was the really focused mission on ending child labor in a specific industry, and the fact that you could create a model to go beyond and yet work deeply in one market.”

“A few things really appealed to me [about GoodWeave], because my background is focused on proving a personal view that you could help low-end producers and improve worker’s rights by educating consumers and creating a demand for ethically-made products. What appealed to me about GoodWeave was the really focused mission on ending child labor in a specific industry, and the fact that you could create a model to go beyond and yet work deeply in one market,” said Smith.

While changing the market is the most important part of GoodWeave’s mission, the organization is accomplishing its goal of ending child carpet labor through a three-pronged approach of regular inspections, rescue and education, and a consumer awareness campaign.

“When businesses join forces with us and begin to certify their products, it kicks everything into motion. It enables us to inspect the production sites where their rugs are made, and we can physically enter the premises and see what’s happening,” said Smith.

Through frequent inspections, GoodWeave monitors rug companies in Nepal, India, and now Afghanistan to make sure they are following guidelines. From there, they can effectively stop children from working at looms (although there is no political mandate, merely the companies’ decree.) GoodWeave companies are given specific certification labels ensuring child labor was not used to make the carpet. Such companies include Macy’s, Lapchi, Company C, and Creative Matters. Retailers and showrooms not only provide financial support, but they help educate customers on the importance of purchasing a GoodWeave rug. Nearly 1,000 retailers carry 90 GoodWeave-certified rugs across the U.S. and Canada.
Company C, which produces colorful handmade rugs and home décor, is sold in three exclusive stores and by 1,000 dealers worldwide. Walter Chapin, founder and CEO, believes quality construction is important, which is why his rugs are produced by adult artisans in India.

“Many of our products are made by hand in India—we wanted to give back to families in local producing communities. GoodWeave impressed us with their understanding of the challenges and opportunities of working with people in India. We share the principle that improving lives must start first with ensuring children are not forced to work. Children must then be given the opportunity for an education so they can make good choices for the best possible quality of life,” said Chapin.

Once child workers are “rescued,” they are offered education, training, and rehabilitation. Children rescued can be as young as six, but usually are around ten years old. Rescuing is an important, if not the most important, part of ending the child labor process.

“It’s not viable to work on child labor issues and not have alternatives for children, so our rescue is a very important piece. To eliminate child labor, you need to have a solution and a rehabilitation option,” said Smith. “The children we find, we work with them and their families, giving them psychological counseling and guidance on their rights and providing appropriate education options.”

Once rescued, rehabilitation and education begins for the children, many who have never been to school and come from very poor and often abusive homes. Children are given a full education through grade ten or the age of 18. Schooling begins with science, and language development. Vocational opportunities in such fields like auto repair and tailoring are also available.

Carol Sebert and Donna Hastings, co-founders of Creative Matters, a Toronto-based award-winning rug company, have seen first-hand the impact of the schools on their thrice-yearly visits to Kathmandu. Sebert and Hastings were initially introduced to the company at an exposition in Germany, drawn to its singular mission of preventing child labor through rug certification.

“Carol and I visit Nepal once or twice a year, and every time we go we make a point to visit the GoodWeave school, which is amazing, and do an art program with them, which is really fun,” said Hastings. “It’s very important for our clientele as well as for ourselves that efforts are being made toward ending this kind of labor in the hand-knotted carpet industry.”

GoodWeave also provides preventative care, bringing awareness to high-risk child-labor communities and offering daycare and education for children of carpet weavers and similar children. Health clinics and adult literacy programs are also sponsored.

“Over time we’d like to shift more of our work towards prevention. We want to prevent children from getting into exploitative positions in the first place,” said Smith. “One of the most effective [preventative measures] has been our early child care and education program. Our assessments have shown it’s been especially effective because parents want their children to go to school, they just might not have the means, and when parents can see their children flourishing in an educational environment they will go to much greater lengths to make sure that continues,” said Smith.

Media Campaign and Future of GoodWeave

Awareness has increased among consumers in the United States through GoodWeave’s One in a Million campaign. Although the campaign has lofty goals of ending child labor in the industry by 2018, its advertising in many décor magazines like Dwell, Interior Design, and O Magazine have been key at improving awareness among the buying public. Ten different publications now run the advertisements, with a total estimated audience of 15 million. A recent two-year grant from Google will primarily help the One in a Million campaign.

“Like advertising anything, it is a critical element, as long as it is complemented by other elements, including events, other media, online, and outreach, and [GoodWeave] has done that. Advertising at least raises the purview of asking a consumer for one simple action—please buy rugs—but to make sure that it has that label,” said Michela O’Connor Abrams, president of Dwell.

Abrams, who sits on various boards of other non-profit organizations, believes that GoodWeave is one of the most successful, especially in terms of measurable outcomes and sustainability.

“Nina and the GoodWeave board have set up this organization truly to be additive and sustainable, so that when the work is done, it is building upon itself, and that’s why we are able to measure market share and how much of a difference the organization is making.”

“GoodWeave can do its part, but it’s only the people like us who choose mills that are GoodWeave-certified that ensure that child labor isn’t happening.”

GoodWeave’s future plans to end child labor in the carpet industry are bold. According to the ILO, it is estimated 215 million children are engaged in child labor. GoodWeave hopes to use market strategy to forge industry-wide change.

“Consumers and markets really drive this. It’s really important to achieve a market saturation point in North America and Europe for us to be able to end the problem. Our organization is targeting a global market share of 17 percent. If we can certify 17 percent of rugs, we will be able to reach a tipping
point in the problem,” said Smith.

Hastings and Sebert also advocate the importance of changing consumer behavior by altering the kinds of rugs available to them.

Said Sebert: “GoodWeave can do its part, but it’s only the people like us who choose mills that are GoodWeave-certified that ensure that child labor isn’t happening.”

Looking ahead, GoodWeave, formerly RugMark, is hoping to expand to include certification of other products that are known to use child labor in the same markets, like Indian silk and cotton. The process of re-branding from a rug to a weaving-based organization was the first step in this goal. Reaching out to more countries, including Pakistan, China, and other significant producing nations is another major objective.

“Things like this don’t work without participation of all the players,” said Smith. “We are only successful when industry, designers, consumers, weavers and workers on the ground participate.”