Laxmi in 2000
Nearly a decade ago, a single photograph captured the plight of one million ‘carpet kids’ and helped launch RugMark USA’s campaign to end child labor. Rescued nine year-old Laxmi Shrestha, with her stoic yet innocent expression, was seen in stores and homes throughout North America. Laxmi came to symbolize the tragic consequences when children are forced into an adult world.
Today, I’d like to paint a very different, but equally powerful, picture for you. RugMark has reduced child exploitation in South Asia’s handmade rug industry by two-thirds. As for RugMark’s poster child, Laxmi is now 16 and enrolled in college. On a visit to Kathmandu this summer, I found Laxmi laughing with fellow students at the Laboratory School, one of Nepal’s foremost academic institutions. I wanted to share this recent photograph with you (link below).
To transition the remaining 300,000 children from carpet loom to classroom, RugMark USA unrolled "The Most Beautiful Rug" consumer awareness campaign in 2006. A snapshot of the campaign after one year shows the face of RugMark is indeed changing. From the pages of "Good Housekeeping" to "Fast Company", the websites of PBS to "Interior Design", the channels of CNN to "Conscious Living", RugMark has brought unprecedented attention to the problem and galvanized millions of shoppers to be part of the solution.
In 2007, RugMark was labeled by one prominent design blog as “amazingly proactive,” hailed by a humanitarian magazine for “winning the battle to end child labor” and thanked by a former child weaver for giving her “a new birth in this world.”
The burgeoning consumer demand for RugMark rugs has brought results overseas – childhood was restored to 124 children like Laxmi already this year. And we’re just getting started. Fifteen percent of imported handmade rugs could carry the RugMark® label in the next decade, effectively eliminating child labor from South Asian looms.
Unfortunately, child slavery is far from gone. Last month, a story broke that showed the world the urgency and importance of RugMark’s work. An investigation in India by "The Observer" uncovered a sweatshop, including workers as young as 10, making clothes for GapKids. In the aftermath, activists and experts have repeatedly cited RugMark’s program as a model to which the fashion industry and others should look.
Next year, RugMark USA plans to share its expertise with the child labor and wider fair trade movements. While still young ourselves, RugMark, like Laxmi, has grown up and our organization has valuable insight about how to build an equitable global marketplace that can transform individual lives. In 2008, RugMark will also work to expand its program – reaching even more children trafficked throughout Asia’s carpet belt. In order to do this, RugMark needs increased philanthropic support.
This season of giving, I ask you to make a contribution to move our mission forward and to honor how far we’ve come. Your investment will help RugMark to unroll "The Most Beautiful Rug" in new markets, share our model and rescue and educate more children.
Laxmi is a testament to what RugMark has achieved in under 10 years. With your support, imagine the picture we can create in the next decade.