Did a Child Make Your Rug? This Short Film Will Show You Why It Matters
When Nina Smith joined GoodWeave in 1999, the organization didn’t have an office in the United States. It was a grassroots movement in India that rescued children working in carpet-weaving factories.
Now headquartered in Washington, D.C., the labeling initiative inspects rug suppliers in India, Nepal, and Afghanistan. It takes children out of factories and provides them with an education while helping them recover. GoodWeave partners with industry designers, brands, and retailers and certifies 5 percent of all the carpets in the world with the GoodWeave label. It aims to certify 17 percent by 2020.
To realize that goal, on Monday the organization launched the Stand With Sanju campaign. Smith, now GoodWeave’s executive director, tells us about it.
TakePart: Tell us about Sanju. Why her story?
Nina Smith: She was 11 years old when we found her in 2012. When I met her, one thing that really struck me were her hands. They looked like an old lady’s hands, with all these cuts.
Sanju’s story represents what happens to a lot of kids. A labor broker takes them from their village and brings them to where there's demand for workers. The children’s working hours can be from four in the morning to eight at night. They’re subject to punishment when they make a mistake. Girls, especially, are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.
It’s a hard thing for people to believe and understand what child labor looks like—that kids are trafficked from their village to the big city to make products that they buy. Sanju’s story is a way to make a complex and faraway issue understandable. We wanted to make a film that would shift people’s attitude from “Oh, it’s nice to help children if I can, if I can get the price I want, the color I want” to “I’m not going to buy this product unless it has this label.”
TakePart: Why did GoodWeave choose to focus on the carpet industry?
Smith: It’s a very important economic sector in the countries where we work. In Afghanistan, carpet weaving is the No. 1 legal employment sector. In Nepal, carpets are one of the top three exports. One study estimates that 42 percent of carpets made in India are tainted with some form of modern slavery.
It’s likely that if a consumer were to walk in and buy a rug—without two independent verifications of how that rug was made—it was made with child labor. As an industry, it keeps these countries in a cycle of poverty and illiteracy, and it mostly employs women and children.
TakePart: How much does poverty play a role in countries where child labor is a problem?
Smith: In Nepal, there’s such high unemployment that people are going abroad for better opportunities, often to the Middle East to work in the service industry. About 25 percent of the country’s GDP comes from foreign remittances. So employers argue that they need workers. They employ kids because they’re often left behind and easy to control, and they don’t have to pay them very much. It’s illegal in Nepal to employ children under 14, but like other countries where child labor happens, there’s no real enforcement.
TakePart: Why launch the campaign now?
Smith: It’s back-to-school. It’s a perfect time to shine a light on the fact that there are 168 million children all over the world that never get an education. It’s also a time for high consumer spending, and it’s ironic that people are buying all these clothes, supplies, and electronics for their kids to go back to school. Then there are children on the other side of the world to make those things, who will be deprived of their education.
My seven-year-old son just started second grade. The most important thing for him right now, even though he’s doing well in school, is having fun. He loves to play. GoodWeave works with kids who are completely deprived of that. Being able to play is what childhood is all about. As a mom, the hardest part is seeing kids who don’t get that. The greatest joy is seeing how quickly they transform when they’re given their childhood back.