A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making a Mark on the Rug Industry

For those of you who have been following my blog, you may remember that back last October I paid a visit to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation centre for former child labourers in Rajasthan, India, established by Kailash Satyarthi. My visit there has stuck with me, I have told the story to many people I have met along the way, and the photos I took there are some of my favourite.

One of the many interesting dimensions to Kailash’s work are his efforts to eliminate child labour, industry by industry. One of the places he started to do this was in carpet factories. Through is work emerged a particularly effective intervention- the creation of a certification standard label which guarantees a rug a child labour free, know as Rugmark.

It is innovative in that it is tackling the problem through market demand, allowing consumers of conscience to purchase, knowing that the rugs they buy are not made with little hands. Rugmark is the fair trade label of the rug industry and since the introduction of the label the numbers of child labourers in the industry has fallen from about 1million to about 300,000. The numbers are still huge, but they are going in the right direction.

To find out more about Rugmark’s operations in a ‘developed country’ setting, I met up with the lovely Nina Smith, who is the Executive Director of the Rugmark Foundation USA. (She is also a new Mum, so I also got to meet the equally lovely Sammy). Nina came to Rugmark from 12 years of work in the fairtrade moment and an involvement with the ‘The Craft Centre’, a non-profit which promoted the fair trading of handicrafts from artisans mainly from South America… so in many ways Rugmark felt like a natural progression.

Talking to Nina was a certain insight in the level of work which is required to make system-wide change. It’s as much about rescuing the children for the factories, (as Kailash does), to how the product is labelled on shelves back in the US. Making the link between the two is one of the reasons why Rugmark has been successful.

Looking at it’s website, you would think that Rugmark is a many person operation, but as Nina surprised me, up until recently it was a one shop wonder back in the US- only her full time, with the backing of a board. What I found interesting is how she leveraged the connections and skills of those around her to make it all happen.

To me Rugmark is a great example of collaborative social entrepreneurship and thinking about how problems can be approached through incentivising positive consumer choice, rather than just laying blame.

Here is a photo of Nina and Sammy;

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