Some rug producers illegally use children in the production of rugs as a source of cheap labour. “Rug children” are often forced to work seven days a week, up to sixteen hours per day, receive no education or decent living conditions and therefore have a bleak future. Here in the UK, consumers unwittingly buy these rugs in the big chain stores and independent high street shops, and in so doing perpetuate the problem.
The news is much better when it comes to purchasing a luxury ‘designer’ rug in the UK. GoodWeave labelled rugs are now widely available in this sector from the likes of The Rug Company, Deirdre Dyson, Bazaar Velvet, Jacaranda Carpets, Knots Rugs and WovenGround. To make shopping for ethically produced rugs easier, GoodWeave UK launched its own online Rug Directory, which informs interior designers and consumers about the latest GoodWeave labelled rug designs and where to buy them.
Rug manufacturing takes place in some of the poorest regions of the world, and rural poverty and lack of access to education forces families to send their children to work, often hundreds of miles from where they live. It is important to understand the context here – these kids do not bring home any income to their families, they sit for hours on end, working in atrocious conditions in return for a meal and somewhere to sleep, if they are lucky.
If the West did not buy rugs from producers exploiting children, the practice would stop and that is what GoodWeave works towards, but in the UK, high street retailers are slow and reluctant to take on their share of the responsibility.
GoodWeave is active in India and Nepal with a pilot scheme in Afghanistan. It encourages rug producers to sign up to its labelling scheme, which funds random and independent inspections of the rug producers and educates and financially supports rescued children and those that are vulnerable. In return, these producers can apply the GoodWeave label on their rugs. If UK Retailers bought only GoodWeave labelled rugs to sell in their shops, this would deny a market to producers using children and in so doing drastically reduce child exploitation – but many don’t. This lack of effort in the UK is in sharp contrast to the USA and Germany where major retail brands such as Macy’s and Otto make GoodWeave labelled rugs widely available.
All too often large fail to understand that the only way to prevent child labour in the informal manufacturing sector is to have local inspectors, out in the villages carrying out random, unannounced inspections on a regular basis. It is easy for the large retailers to be duped into believing that their suppliers are not using child labour, as weaving is often subcontracted out to thousands of individual, village based weavers. Visiting buyers and annual audit teams cannot possibly visit all these places and yet this is where children are often found by our inspectors, making rugs.
Some UK high street retailers make donations to charities in India and Nepal, provide clinics and schools and others make commitments on sustainability, and all these efforts are to be applauded, but to my knowledge none of them are really tackling child labour in the informal manufacturing sector.
So, next time you are in a shop about to buy a rug made in Nepal or India, check it is a GoodWeave labelled rug and buy with a clear conscience. If there is no label, then please do not buy and explain to the shop owner or manager why – only then do we have a chance of educating our high street stores and making a real difference.