Last year GoodWeave in­spec­tors res­cued 190 chil­dren from ex­ploita­tive la­bor — their av­er­age age was twelve. — GoodWeave CEO Nina Smith

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The prob­lem, as Smith put it, is that “one in 11 chil­dren around the world are be­ing ex­ploited in the global econ­omy. This leads to a vi­cious cy­cle of il­lit­er­acy and poverty and makes en­tire re­gions of the world poor and un­sta­ble.” GoodWeave has part­nered with stores such as Tar­get and Macy’s to get to the bot­tom of the sup­ply chains.

“Here’s why we need to look deeper,” Smith wrote in a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Medium. “More than 90 per­cent of the child la­bor­ers GoodWeave re­ha­bil­i­tates are in out­sourced cot­tage-in­dus­try pro­duc­tion. While child la­bor is il­le­gal un­der the age of four­teen in most cases in In­dia, and while it is in­creas­ingly less com­mon to find chil­dren in fac­to­ries, they con­tinue to work in more re­mote lo­ca­tions. In fact, 83.6 per­cent of In­dia’s non-farm la­bor works in this in­for­mal way.” Ac­cord­ing to Smith, GoodWeave fo­cuses on com­bat­ting what the ILO calls Worst Forms of Child La­bor — which means la­bor that harms the well­be­ing of the child. “Our stan­dards are based on ILO con­ven­tions and the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child,” Smith said, “which, among other things, in­cludes the right to go to school.”

On oc­ca­sion, a grant from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can pro­vide crit­i­cal help. A few years back, GoodWeave wrote two grants, seek­ing funds from the state depart­ment to help in Afghanistan, at the time the new­est coun­try to be added to the GoodWeave fam­ily. “One pro­posed grant was to build a fa­cil­ity for women who are ei­ther wid­owed or di­vorced, as there is not re­ally a place in their so­ci­ety for them or a way for them to make money,” Gray said. “That grant was suc­cess­ful, and there is now a fa­cil­ity and pro­gram where these women are taught how to weave and can make a liv­ing this way.”

Afghanistan has re­cently been in the news be­cause its women have be­come opium ad­dicts in over­whelm­ing num­bers, and the opium pan­demic threat­ens to do last­ing dam­age to fam­ily struc­tures there. “The first thing GoodWeave did in Afghanistan was to build an early child care fa­cil­ity,” Gray said. “Most of the mar­ried women work in their homes and were giv­ing their chil­dren drugs to keep them quiet so they could weave. Now they have a day­care and no more drugs!”

Gray was writ­ten into the sec­ond part of the grant, which was not funded. “I would have gone to Afghanistan to help teach the women what Western con­tem­po­rary rug de­sign­ers are look­ing for in their rugs. Sadly, I never got to make that trip.” In­stead, she has gone on a dif­fer­ent trip. Gray is cur­rently in Kash­mir, In­dia. One rea­son for her stay is to help the weavers there, with the sup­port of her friends in Kash­mir. “The weaver is on the bot­tom rung and makes very lit­tle from his labors,” she said. “We are hop­ing to set up a work­shop where the weavers will ben­e­fit more from their ef­forts and not have to go through so many mid­dle­men, and not wait some­times months or more to be paid.” It goes with­out say­ing that if weavers were paid fair wages, they could af­ford to send their chil­dren to school.

Gray is try­ing to come up with more con­tem­po­rary de­signs for weavers to make “be­cause tra­di­tional rugs are not in fash­ion right now.” There are other artisans whom she also hopes to in­clude in these ef­forts. In ad­di­tion, Gray plans to use her skills as an ar­chi­tect to re­design some build­ings to serve as work­shops. Not ev­ery ven­dor can get so ac­tively in­volved in the well be­ing of their sup­pli­ers. That is why or­ga­ni­za­tions such as GoodWeave are a vi­tal link — they can re­as­sure cus­tomers that a rug has been eth­i­cally pro­duced, or they can alert a par­tic­i­pat­ing ven­dor when in­spec­tors go into fac­to­ries or work­shops and find chil­dren bent over rugs.

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