There are stories that offer hope, bring tears, shed light, teach lessons… but only a few start movements. This is the story of Iqbal Masih and the birth of RugMark.
Each spring, RugMark commemorates the tragic murder of Iqbal Masih, an indentured carpet weaver who ultimately became the face of the child labor movement. On this 13th anniversary of Iqbal’s death, RugMark would like to announce a new initiative to continue his legacy.
RugMark is assembling a photo exhibition of South Asia’s ‘carpet kids' to tour the U.S. later this year. Iqbal put a human face on an otherwise anonymous issue. With your support, RugMark will traverse the country introducing more faces and making certain that companies and consumers face up to this problem. Iqbal is woven into all we do year-round and has now inspired the “Faces of Freedom” exhibit.
You may know the story of how four year-old Iqbal was sold into slavery in Pakistan for a loan the equivalent of $12. He was forced to weave rugs for six years, 14 hours-a-day, six days-a-week. Despite his relentless toil, the debt grew to 13,000 rupees or $260, an insurmountable sum in a country where 13% of the population live on less than $1 a day.
Iqbal was rescued at the age of 10. Having spent half of his life malnourished and in a cramped loom shed, Iqbal was only four feet tall and a mere 60 pounds. The most dramatic part of this story is actually what happened next. Iqbal became the ambassador of child slaves and traveled to the U.S. and Europe, where the rugs children make are bought and sold.
Lauded as a hero by the human rights community and fellow children still toiling on carpet looms, Iqbal was also perceived as a threat to a certain industry faction. On Easter Sunday in April 1995, Iqbal was murdered while riding his bike in his hometown. Over a decade later, the case remains unsolved. It is widely held that he was targeted by the so-called 'carpet mafia’ for his highly visible role.
RugMark was born in the wake of Iqbal’s death and is dedicated to ending child labor, one industry at a time. In addition to inspecting carpet manufacturing facilities and offering educational alternatives to those rescued, RugMark confronts the invisibility of child labor. It is difficult to see small children hidden in dark loom sheds, their sweat and tears absorbed by the yarn. RugMark, with your support, shines a light on this inhumane practice for all consumers to see and creates a transparent trading system so shoppers know the responsible option.
With "The Most Beautiful Rug" campaign, RugMark USA ensures that no one can claim ignorance of this injustice. Since its debut, RugMark’s market share has doubled, touching the lives of 10,000 child weavers, generating $250,000 from certified rug sales to support social programs in artisan communities, harnessing the power of 75,000 consumers, and partnering with almost 50 companies to build ethical supply chains.
On this anniversary, let me thank you again for supporting RugMark's work to end child labor in the way that Iqbal began - by reaching consumers. Please stay tuned to RugMark's website for more information on the "Faces of Freedom" exhibit.