Spotlight on...GoodWeave's CEO Nina Smith
Monday 2nd December 2019
As a proud licensee of GoodWeave, we speak to their CEO Nina Smith to find out more about their dedication to end child labour, forced labour and bonded labour in global supply chains:
Tell us more about child labour in the rug industry:
Child labour prevalence in the handmade rug industry has reduced by some 80% since 1995. However, we still see these cases every day. In 2019 alone, GoodWeave has rehabilitated more than 450 child weavers in India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Some of those cases are extreme examples of trafficking. For example, a labour broker offers a loan to a child’s family. This will be in exchange for the work that child will do. But, with high interest rates and constant pay deductions, those loans may never be paid off. Therefore, debt-bondage can lose an entire childhood.
What are the problems with hand-knotted rugs?
Hand-knotting rugs is a highly skilled job yet, traditionally, the recompenses have always been poor for workers in this sector. There’s a direct link between poverty, child labour, and illiteracy. It’s a vicious cycle. Today, the rug communities of India, Nepal and Afghanistan are some of the most impoverished and most illiterate in their countries. This is due to a combination of reasons; one of the prime being that the industry is largely informal, using sub-contracted, short-term labour to meet demand. This typically results in several levels of production beyond a standard factory set-up. In fact, much of this is invisible as it is dispersed widely in individual homes.
This informal, working class tends to be from marginalised, ethnic groups. Families have not had had access to traditional government services and fair work terms. So this, in turn, leads to irregular work and exploitation. In addition, this forms a cycle of illiteracy that afflicts each generation, from poverty and child labour to trafficking.
How did Kailash Satyarthi set up this organisation?
Kailash founded GoodWeave 25 years ago and he's an Indian children’s rights activist. He has dedicated his working life to the abolition of child labour, slavery and trafficking. He also promotes the right to an education for all children. Back in the 1980s, he was leading raids in the Indian rug manufacturing sector, rescuing individual children from the looms. On one occasion, he was returning home, having delivered a trafficked child back to their village. However, he then saw dozens more children getting off a train in the hands of ‘middlemen’. (Kailash Satyarthi pic credit: nobelprize.org)
How have his methods developed?
This incident made him reassess his ‘raid and rescue’ approach to stopping child labour. You could refer to it as a ‘light-bulb’ moment. In fact, this led to the creation of GoodWeave (originally called Rugmark). He realised that child labour was such a profound issue, involving millions of children. Therefore, an industry wide scheme would be necessary to give producers a commercial reason to cease using child labour, endorsed by legislation.
Kailash is still championing the children of the world and was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 in recognition of his work.
How exactly does the GoodWeave programme prevent child exploitation?
The GoodWeave scheme gives visibility to such children and workers. Armed with this knowledge, consumers and importers can make decisions about the level of supply chain transparency and scrutiny they require. Therefore, they can choose their suppliers accordingly. If importers demand their producers are licensed and meet the GoodWeave standards of production, including random inspections for child labour, most producers will comply to win and keep the business. The incentive to remain licensed is commerce. But, over time, GoodWeave’s supporting programmes offered to producers, contribute to long-term and profound changes in business practices. Our programmes range from worker health checks, the provision of childcare and schooling for workers’ children to adult literacy classes in rug communities.
What does child labour really mean?
In the West, when we talk about child labour, there can be an incorrect assumption that this 'work' is helping out a little after school. However, in the rug sector hundreds of thousands of children have been sold into slavery, as young as five years old. In fact, they are forced to work up to 16-17 hours a day for no pay. They have no home, no education nor emotional well-being. In addition, most are malnourished, suffer from life-shortening health issues and are illiterate.
What does the GoodWeave label mean?
The numbered GoodWeave label on a licensed rug gives you the best assurance that no child labour was involved in its production. Our teams are on the ground with suppliers, mapping and investigating their supply chains and reporting back any deviations from the agreed standards and instigating remedial action. If we find any child, we remove them from work and instead give them an education and provide support through to adulthood.
Tell us more about the labelling scheme:
When GoodWeave first started its labelling scheme, there were approximately one million children in child-labour in South Asia's rug industry. Today, GoodWeave and other initiatives have significantly reduced that number. Worldwide, GoodWeave has over 170 licensees, such as Matthew Wailes, which account for around 25% of the total output of hand-knotted rugs produced globally. Increasingly, we see governments legislating against child labour, including the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. Now, consumers around the world are demanding the truth - they want to know who made their products and how. Meanwhile, retailers are recognising that the market dynamics are changing fast. Therefore, to be competitive, they need to demonstrate their business model is socially responsible. We’ve come a long way in the last 25 years. In fact, I feel the tipping point is in sight, when the eradication of child labour in the Indian, Nepalese and Afghan rug sectors will become reality.
Why should we invest in a rug or carpet with the GoodWeave label?
Whilst you may choose a rug for its design, colours and quality, the GoodWeave label provides peace of mind and the sense of satisfaction that you are helping to restore a childhood to thousands of vulnerable children. How much more beautiful can a rug be?
How are you helping rug communities?
In the process, we help rug communities to understand the power of education for both adults and children. With education, you have some choices in life and the ability to influence the well-being of your own family. GoodWeave provides tailor-made schemes to ensure rescued and at-risk rug children receive a quality education to help them through life. The very fact that children GoodWeave has resourced through school become teachers, social workers, doctors, is a key effectiveness indicator of the work we do. And, perhaps equally important, through schemes such as the Child-Friendly Communities in India and bridging schemes, we are facilitating marginalised communities to access state-run services, to which they are entitled.
What success stories can you share with us from Nepal?
An example of the far-reaching impact of GoodWeave is Hem Moktan, who works for GoodWeave in Nepal. His parents could not afford to send him to school and sent him instead to work in a carpet factory. When a GoodWeave inspector found him, he was working 15 hours per day, sleeping on a crowded store room floor with other weavers and suffering from various illnesses. GoodWeave gave him a home, schooling, further education and now he works for The GoodWeave Nepal Foundation. He demonstrates real empathy with the rescued children and works on the child development programme: ‘I used to be shackled by the supply chain, forced to spend my days in painful work. I thought it would never end. Today, I am part of a different chain, a better one – I am linked to a community of people [like you] working together to free kids from slavery.'
Explain more about your work in Nepal:
In Nepal, rug production tends to be urban-based in and around the Kathmandu Valley. We have implemented several programmes for reducing child labour in the area. Two of the most impactful have been the establishment and running of Hamro Ghar, our transit home for children rescued from making rugs. Here, we provide psychological help to deal with the trauma of having been trafficked and abused, and we give them back their childhood. Setting up nursery day-care facilities for rug workers’ children has also made an outstanding contribution to reducing child labour and improving the earning capacity of adults, who all get paid piece-rates.
What’s next on the horizon for GoodWeave?
In recent years, other NGO organisations and governments have approached GoodWeave to scale-up the reach of the GoodWeave system, beyond the rug sector. Following extensive pilot studies in the apparel, home textiles and jewellery sectors of South Asia, and having received transformative funding from companies such as UBS and the Skoll Foundation, along with government grants from the UK Home Office and the US State Department, these new schemes are coming to fruition. By 2025, our aim is to emancipate 30 million children from work.
At Matthew Wailes, all our hand-knotted rugs are made in Nepal and we always abide by GoodWeave's standards to ensure our rugs and carpets are made by adult artisans, not children. You can see our rug and carpet collections here.