From the cocoa fields of Côte d'Ivoire to the carpet sheds of Uttar Pradesh, an estimated 168 million children around the world are subjected to the harsh conditions of child labor. Kailash Satyarthi, founder of GoodWeave, and Malala Yousafzai, an activist for female equality in the Middle East, have committed their lives to the belief that children regardless of gender, geography, faith, caste or societal circumstance belong in classrooms. The two were honored with the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for their tireless devotion to this cause.
Satyarthi’s GoodWeave organization, which is not for profit and ensures the ethical creation of rugs overseas, is one that works very closely with the interior design industry. Rug designers including Rosemary Hallagarten, Malene B and Tania Johnson are all GoodWeave-certified.
In the 1980s while on an engineering career track, Satyarthi began rescuing children from bondage. As chairman of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, he fought against child slavery one factory at a time, one child at a time. He conducted rescue raids and liberated children who were enduring extreme violence, some brutally beaten if they ever tried to escape.
Following one such raid, Satyarthi personally oversaw the safe return of a trafficked boy to his home village. When he went to board a train home, Satyarthi saw dozens and dozens of children destined for the looms in the hands of middlemen. Arrested for causing a disturbance at the station, Satyarthi suddenly realized that this situation required a larger solution.
“Something else had to be done,” he said. “I thought, ‘Consumers have to be educated!’” This realization was a turning point for him and for the child labor movement; it inspired a profound shift in thinking and strategy. In addition to exposing the ugly truth behind beautiful rugs, Satyarthi set out to establish a certification system that would incentivize manufacturers to stop exploiting children as well as guide consumer purchases. Thus the RugMark label (now GoodWeave) was born. The first carpets with that certification were exported from India in 1995.
Today, GoodWeave works in the top consumer capitals of the world and in key rug-producing areas across Asia, expanding most recently to Afghanistan. In the two decades since Satyarthi’s jail cell “a-ha moment,” the organization has gone on to reduce the number of “carpet kids” in the region by two-thirds.
“So many of us were motivated to join this struggle to protect the lives of vulnerable children because of him,” said Nina Smith, the head of GoodWeave International. “This is an incredible moment for Kailash, for GoodWeave, for the children who have been forced to sacrifice their youth and their education for the benefit of business, and for the 130-plus carpet importers and retailers who have taken a stand.”
GoodWeave is now preparing to finish the work that Satyarthi began and reach the 250,000 children still left on the looms through their “Stand with Sanju” campaign. It is inspired by the real life story of a Nepalese girl named Sanju who went from carpet loom to classroom.
As Kailash looks back on his journey, he remains optimistic that the model can be used in other industries from chocolate to mining. “At the time we launched the certification, nobody had heard the phrases ‘corporate responsibility’ or ‘corporate accountability,’” he said. “But we have given voice to many initiatives in the world. And some of the basic ingredients of GoodWeave are now being used as great lessons by others. In the end, we can change the world in this way.”
Related Story: Rug designers discuss the art and ethics of their work
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