The rights of every child GoodWeave aims to end child labor
use our wallets to make all kinds of political statements. People commit to buying only non-GMO food, fairtrade coffee, or free-range eggs. But do we know where our rugs come from? When we buy a traditional rug, or some other folk art item, how do we know whether or not someone has been forced to make the delightful item we are acquiring?
Robin Gray, the owner of Robin Gray Design, a Santa Fe company that specializes in custom and ready-made carpets, believes that people should care about whether their rugs are made ethically or not. An architect and a weaver, Gray said that while in the past, she had been aware of the problem of child labor in India, she had not realized that it was a serious problem in the rug industry. “It wasn’t until I met someone who had worked in the business for some time that I became aware of it, and of GoodWeave,” she said. “After finding out what they were about, I joined the organization. Now we are working in other areas where child labor is an issue, not just in the rug industry.”
GoodWeave was founded over two decades ago to advocate for social change with the goal of ending child labor, forced labor, and bonded labor in global supply chains. As Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi tells it, the organization was formed after an incident in the early 1990s. At the time, Satyarthi was speaking on live television about the scourge of child labor in South Asia’s carpet industry, and an elderly German woman called in and promised to throw out her carpet — but she also challenged him to do something so she could buy a new carpet. Enter GoodWeave. Satyarthi would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his initiatives to stop child labor.
“The GoodWeave logo is on all my advertising, and the GoodWeave label goes on all of my rugs, along with a number which means you can trace that rug back to where it was woven and by whom,” said Gray, who is the only licensed GoodWeave importer in Santa Fe — and in New Mexico. Target and Macy’s stores also carry GoodWeave certified rugs, along with out-of-state companies such as Shivhon Rugs in Los Angeles. Gray added that there are other labels a customer can look for, such as Step. “But in my opinion, the GoodWeave label is the only one that really ensures there was no child labor involved. We are also working on fair and safe practices in the weaving facilities.”
A 2014 Harvard University FXB Center for Health and Human Rights study found child labor to be a chronic problem in India’s rural areas. The Harvard Study, the largest-ever investigation into slavery and child labor in the manufacture of Indian handmade carpets (of which India is the world’s largest exporter), found 45 percent “industry prevalence” of forced labor, sometimes in conditions so filthy and dangerous that researchers refused to enter certain sites, fearing for their health and safety.
The author of the Harvard study, Siddharth Kara, is the director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. When Kara’s researchers sought to talk to factory workers, it was not unusual for them to be subjected to harassment from security guards. The study quotes one fifteen-year-old female weaver