While his elementary school peers repeated addition and subtraction drills in a classroom each day, Narayan wove knot after knot at a Kathmandu carpet loom. For eight years of his early life, Narayan was a bonded child laborer without access to education, toiling up to fifteen hours a day.
Now a bright, friendly high school student at one of Nepal’s most prestigious private schools, Narayan is an articulate student and a natural leader. Narayan was rescued from the factory by the nonprofit organization GoodWeave, which works to eradicate exploitative child labor from South Asia’s rug industry and provide educational opportunities for these young children.
“Because of GoodWeave, now I have a pen in my hand instead of working tools, knowledge in my mind and confidence towards life,” says the student. Narayan’s friends from GoodWeave’s rehabilitation center “think of their time as child laborers in the carpet industry as the dark age of their life. Now they really understand the power of confidence and dignity in life, and they know they deserve these things,” he explains.
GoodWeave’s new One in a Million campaign was inspired by the one million children who, like Narayan, were illegally working in the carpet-making industry when GoodWeave began in 1994. The campaign seeks to create awareness and build demand for the handmade rugs GoodWeave certifies as child-labor-free, ultimately eliminating this “dark age” practice from the industry.
Through the GoodWeave certification program, local inspectors in Nepal and India visit licensed manufacturers on a surprise, random basis. Companies that join GoodWeave and meet its strict no-child-labor standards are issued GoodWeave labels for their carpets, each bearing a unique, traceable number. When inspectors do find children working at the looms, they are rescued and provided free schooling, room and board, and counseling, among other critical services.
GoodWeave works to not only get children off the looms and back into schools, but otherwise help families overcome the barriers that keep them from putting and keeping their children from school. For example, the organization also sponsors education for children found to be at risk for carpet work, and provides daycare for the children of adult weavers to help prevent their children from ending up on the looms. Since GoodWeave’s founding in 1994, child labor in South Asia’s rug industry is down 75 percent, to an estimated 250,000.
By seeking out GoodWeave certified rugs, consumers can use their purchasing power help bring the number of child weavers to zero. And given the precarious state of the rug industry, rug buyers have more leverage than ever in the marketplace. From 2007 to 2010, the U.S. market for imported handmade rugs dropped a record 46 percent, as consumers bought fewer and cheaper rugs. Meanwhile, the price of key materials, such as high-quality Himalayan wool, is soaring.
In such dire market conditions, rug companies could easily be tempted to employ children (who typically earn a fraction of an adult wage) to lower prices and boost profits. And it’s even easier for companies to justify cutting corners by skimping on third-party inspections and monitoring services. Yet without the rigorous system of checks and balances provided by an independent organization like GoodWeave, the exploitation of children will remain in the shadows, far from view of not only consumers but often even the companies selling the rugs themselves.
Companies can do the right thing by becoming members of GoodWeave’s certification program, ensuring that the rugs they produce and sell are child-labor-free. While GoodWeave’s low company membership fees help to pay for inspections and social programs for weaving communities, on average, the fees are typically the equivalent of just a few dollars on the cost of each rug, and don’t come close to covering the full of its operations in Nepal and India. As a result, GoodWeave relies on donations for much of its funding.
Consumers can incentivize companies to do the right thing by only buying handmade rugs that bear the GoodWeave label. Their purchase sends a signal down the supply chain that a child’s life is more valuable than a few dollars’ bargain. A GoodWeave certified rug is truly one in a million, not only because of its handmade beauty will last a lifetime, but also because its purchase helps kids like Narayan enjoy the life of freedom that every child deserves.