You Could Save 100 Kids Today, But Tomorrow 100 More Would Take Their Place
Some of the most devastating problems in our world have a battery of laws designed to prevent them—think human trafficking, child labor, drug trafficking. Despite being criminalized by an elaborate web of local, state, national and international legal prohibitions and punishments, these problems persist. Why?
Because the economic forces behind them are just too entrenched. That's why the idea behind the RugMark Foundation USA—which seeks to prevent child labor by changing the market dynamics that support it—is so brilliant.
The handmade rug industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the use of child labor. So the RugMark Foundation set out to eliminate the demand for handwoven rugs made by children. Of course, no one is out there looking for a carpet woven by a child. But they are searching for cheap and beautiful handwoven rugs. Enterprising Ideas talked to RugMark's executive director Nina Smith this week to learn more about this innovative project. The full interview will soon be posted in our profiles section, but we wanted to give you a sneak preview here.
RugMark works to eliminate child labor—a problem that affects 1 out of 7 children worldwide—by focusing on the countries that produce most of the handwoven rugs sold in the United States. These are Pakistan, India and Nepal. When RugMark was founded 12 years ago, the Indian founder, Kailash Satyarthi, had been rescuing children forced to work and rehabilitating them. He realized that he could, in Smith's words
... rescue 100 kids today and tomorrow 100 more kids would take their place. So he came up with the idea to change the marketplace.
RugMark's innovation is a system of certifying rugs exported from those South Asian countries as child-labor free, charging exporters a license fee to be certified, working with retailers and customers to pay more for the certification, and channeling the proceeds back to the source countries to help children. RugMark funds a variety of programs to help children get education and vocational training, because, according to Smith:
If we are going to be requiring that no children are working it’s crucial there are alternatives provided for them.
Like one of the other innovative projects we've profiled on Enterprising Ideas from Appalachia, RugMark counts on the power of the educated consumer to change the marketplace. Smith explains:
If we can educate the marketplace – consumers, retailers, architects – about what they can do, then ultimately the message is sent to the manufacturers that child labor won’t be tolerated. In essence eliminating the demand.
We’re trying to inculcate the marketplace with this message: 'When a rug is made by child labor, it’s ugly no matter what it looks like.'”
RugMark has some powerful evidence that the U.S. market is ready to pay more for cruelty-free carpets. Smith says that, while the overall rug market is flat, sales of RugMark rugs rose almost 30 percent from 2005 to 2006. Find out why Smith thinks RugMark can reach a "social change tipping point" in her lifetime, what some of the myths about child labor are and the challenges RugMark faces when we post the full interview next week. In the meantime, learn more about RugMark's campaign against child labor and find out who is selling RugMark-certified carpets at their website.