GoodWeave’s Market-based Solution to End Child Labour in India’s Carpet-Weaving Industry
When you purchase a new rug for your home, do you ask yourself who made it and under what conditions they work? With an estimated 250,000 child laborers currently trapped in South Asia’s robust carpet-weaving industry and adult workers also facing daily health and labor rights challenges, this is something that every socially mindful person should know.
One of India’s untold stories is that pockets of slavery still exist throughout the country, in the form of child labor. UNICEF estimates that 12% of children in India between ages 5 and 14 are exploited in child labor activities. According to some estimates, India has nearly 60 million child laborers, despite having 65 million jobless adults. GoodWeave, a business-NGO hybrid founded in India in 1994, creates a market incentive for the carpet-weaving industry to end its practice of child labor.
GoodWeave certifies rugs as child-labor-free and provides rehabilitation and educational opportunities for children rescued from carpet manufacturers. Now working in India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, it has sold more than 7.5 million certified carpets in Europe and North America, while decreasing the estimated number of children working in the carpet industry in South Asia from 1 million to 250,000. Rug exporters and importers sign a legally binding contract adhering to several standards including child-free labor, and agreeing to unannounced inspections. GoodWeave generates 20% of its income from licensing fees that exporters and importers pay to support GoodWeave’s monitoring and educational programs.
If a child laborer is found during a GoodWeave inspection, the rug manufacturer loses its certification and the child is immediately removed from the factory, returned to their family, and provided opportunities for education through local rehabilitation and education partners. To ensure that rescued children stay out of work and receive an education, GoodWeave provides monthly payments to the families, only released after assessing school records and regular check-ins.
India’s laws regarding child labor and education are becoming stricter, which assists GoodWeave in its mission. Along with the passage of the Right to Education Act—which guarantees free education to every child under 14—a new amendment to the Child Labour Act 1986 would ban employment of children under the age of 14. The current law only bans child labor below age 14 for “non-hazardous” work.
“One of harder things to look at is incidence of child labor and how that’s changing over time,” explains GoodWeave Executive Director Nina Smith, who won the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2005. As a market-driven model, GoodWeave assesses their impact with data from both the marketplace and the field. “Our theory is, as there is more market acceptance and as we gain market share [in the amount of certified carpets] and reach more communities, child labor is deterred and more victims are reached,” says Smith.
As the business environment has evolved, there has been increased consumer awareness around sustainability, and interest from bigger corporate buyers that face issues of compliance beyond child labor, explains Smith. GoodWeave recently revised its certification standards to address a range of factors affecting the carpet industry in South Asia including labor rights and environmental issues. Developing the new holistic standards was a complex, stakeholder inclusive process completed over three years. The revision fulfills GoodWeave’s founding charter’s goal to keep no-child-labor as the central focus while also addressing sustainability, health, and workers rights issues affecting the industry.
When it comes to addressing the global issue of child labor, Smith explains that there’s a need for individual, government, and business action, and education for the next generation. Smith argues that consumers have a major role to play in thinking about everything they buy, from GoodWeave certified carpets to local agriculture products (child labor is also a big problem in the agriculture industry). Consumers also need to ask questions and advocate for change at the business level. “When you go to buy a product, ask questions,” says Smith. “Be more active at the point of purchase and understand where products come from, and make sure that people on the sales floor know where their products are sourced.”
The historical trend has been that market-based models result in the systematic exploitation of children. What’s innovative about GoodWeave’s solution is that they enter the market from the same angle, but do so to end the problem instead of fueling it.
Learn more about GoodWeave’s work and resources here.