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How to End Child Labour

April 08, 2020 4 min read

How to End Child Labour

Being a parent, it is hard to watch documentaries or read articles about child labour.  I simply cannot imagine my 4 year old being put to work and lose her childhood freedom.  And it isn't just ordinary simple tasks at work.  The work is often dangerous, in upwards of 12 hours a day under extreme heat conditions, in a facility that is filthy, dark and not sanitary.  They are provided with daal, rice, water and kerosene. They often sleep on the floor beside where they work and if they complain, they get verbally and physically abused. 

Siddarth Kara, Tainted Carpet, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights Harvard School of Public Health // Harvard University

These were the conditions described in a study titled "Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India's Hand-made Carpet Sector" conducted by Siddharth Kara along with a team of researchers through the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.  Their recordings were disturbing and it was pointed out that these observations were made at facilities that allowed entry.  Sadly, there were many more facilities that denied the researchers entry and it was likely that the conditions were worse than what they had witnessed.

Other findings in the report included:

  • over 3,200 cases of forced labour under Indian law, translating to an industry prevalence of 45% 
  • over 1,400 cases of child labour, translating to an industry prevalence of 20%
  • average hourly wage for carpet weavers was $0.21 representing an underpayment of minimum wage by 40 to 65%
  • age of the workers ranged from eight to 80 years old
  • average work days were 10 to 12 hours, six to seven days a week

    One researcher in the report sums up his emotions with the following words:

    "it was an uncomfortable feeling watching destitute children weaving carpets with racing car designs on them that would one day adorn the bedroom of affluent children around the world."

    Amongst the several thousands of cases of slave-like labour (i.e. forced, bonded or child labour) covered by the report, it was observed that there were 172 sites that belonged to exporters to some of the biggest retail stores in the U.S. including companies like Crate & Barrel, William Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Home Depot and Wal-Mart.  Since the release of this report, these major retailers have responded to the public by sharing their anti-child labour initiatives that involved immediate inspection of the work facilities in India.  However, it is unsure how far down the supply chain they went with their inspections.

    "I traveled across the country from Monsanto's cotton fields in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to the slums of Delhi to...the carpet belt near Varanasi.  At every place I met children hard at work, picking cotton buds...and weaving carpets" says Megha Bahree in her article titled "Your Beautiful Indian Rug Was Probably Made by Child Labor".  

    Child labour happens most often at the lowest tier of the supply chain including cotton mills and wool farms.  The next tier after that would be the rug weavers, which happens at extremely remote areas of India and sometimes, in shacks that are disguised as homes rather than factories.  Unless the retailers perform an audit at every single tier of the supply chain, it would be difficult to prove that slave labour was not involved in the production process. Furthermore, the rug weaving facilities are small and mobile.  Even if one does get shut down, it will get restarted in another location quite easily.

    Siddhart Kara, "Tainted Carpets", François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health

    Now what?

    As a consumer, we have the power to create change.  In fact, a non-profit organization called GoodWeave International has made it very easy for us to shop smarter.

    GoodWeave International was started in 1994 by Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi.  His mission was "to end child labor in global supply chains through a market-based holistic and authentic system".  Not only do they perform audits at all levels of the supply chain to weed out all forms of slave labour, they provide training to employers and employees such that safer practices can be adopted in the work place.  They also provide education for children rescued from these facilities such that they never have to fall back into the child labour market.

    The owner of Oh Happy Home!, Amy Eaton, is a GoodWeave certified company and this is what she has to say about GoodWeave:

    "Right from the beginning, it was important for me to go physically to India and visit suppliers and the weavers to get my own 'gut' feeling about how they worked. I knew, however, going forward that I would not be able to 100% ensure that ethical making would continue after I leave India. I trust my manufacturers but the GoodWeave accreditation gave me a guarantee that child labour or forced labour has not been used."

    Like any type of accreditation, Amy's push for GoodWeave certification in her factories was met with great pushback and hesitation.  It takes time, there is paperwork involved and the cost becomes higher across the board. But as Amy puts it, "having children of my own makes me see the world with a whole different set of eyes and I just could not imagine having to send my kids to work in such horrible conditions with no or little pay and without getting an education".

    The whole manufacturing process from start to finish is monitored under GoodWeave including the supply chain, dyers, packers, cutters and finishers.  There is zero tolerance for child labour and where violations are in regards to work, pay, production and environmental standards, GoodWeave works with the manufacturers to improve its processes such that the business can thrive.

    Since the establishment of GoodWeave, the number of children facing labour in the carpet industry in India has been reduced from over 1,000,000 children to 200,000 children (source: documentary The Price of Free by Kailash Satyarthi).  Today, the organization is taking its efforts to other industry sectors as well.

    If we, as consumers, support brands that do proper due diligence and we are willing to pay the proper price for the products we afford, then we will collectively cause the manufacturers in India to flourish.  In turn, they will not need to turn to slave labour to be profitable.

    Allow me to leave you with this.  A male carpet weaver in Uttar Pradesh says:

    "I have been doing carpet weaving for forty years.  I first helped my father repay his loans.  Now I repay my loans.  For the last 11 years my wage has not changed."

    This gentleman is now 52 years old and has lived his entire life under the control of his employers.  Let's not let more children fall victim to this outcome.  Let's ask the right questions, do our research and shop smarter.


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