A Rug Campaign Leaves its Mark on the Child Labor Industry
From her studio in Albuquerque, NM, Joan Weissman designs vibrant, ornate rugs that are woven by hand with wool and fine silk. With each collection and customized design, her creations go from pencil sketches to authentic bodies of work that are crafted and shipped to the United States by artisans in Nepal. Attached to each imported rug is a little label with a traceable serial number that serves as proof that Weissman’s rugs were made by the hands of skilled craftsman, not by the tiny hands of children.
Since its conception in 1994, the RugMark Foundation has been working to get these labels -- featuring RugMark’s blue and red emblem -- attached to every rug manufactured in India and Nepal, two countries where child labor is excessively exploited. Each label and its corresponding serial number confirms that the rug’s manufacturer underwent strict inspections, guaranteeing its production in a factory employed by adults only.
In the 1980’s the world turned its attention to the atrocities of child labor in the handmade carpet industry when international human rights organizations released reports of illegal incidents taking place worldwide. Some of the worst cases of exploitation and trafficking occurred in South Asia, the region where RugMark currently operates. According to the Foundation, desperate parents regularly force their children into debt bondage, causing nearly 300,000 children from the ages of 5 to 14 to forgo education and carefree playtime to spend strenuous hours in harmful factories.
To give these kids the freedom to lead normal lives, a group of businesses, government agencies and community organizations banded together to form a coalition dedicated to enforcing regulations and providing children with proper education, vocational training, and rehabilitation. Since the RugMark label system was introduced in 1995, over 3,000 children have been rescued from factories and thousands more have been deterred from becoming weavers. They’re able to reunite with their families and are given the opportunity to attend one of RugMark’s 13 schools funded by donations and the sale of certified rugs.
More than 5.5 million carpets have been certified child-labor-free according to the Foundation, and you can thank Joan Weissman for doing her part.
“I personally would not want to make a product in a place where I felt that the labor was being exploited,” Weissman says. “For a long time, I didn’t make any rugs outside of the United States, but because I really like Tibetan rugs, I wanted particularly to work with Tibetan people. Once you start going overseas, you want to be within a structure where there is somebody who is paying attention. If you’re not in the factory all the time, you want to be part of a larger organization. That’s always been really important.”
You don’t have to be a member of the carpet industry to make sure child protection laws aren’t swept under the rug. Through RugMark’s global awareness campaign, The Most Beautiful Rug, you too can bring thousands of children to safety. Be sure to look for the RugMark label during your next carpet purchase, share this information with your friends, and ask your local retailer to stock its shelves with certified rugs.