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