On March 28th, 2009 my boss posted a video on The Rug Hub. He wanted to get people's opinion on the controversial subject of child labour in rug weaving.
This is not my typical rug blog topic, but it has evoked very strong feelings in me that I had to write about it.
No child should be sold to scumbags as slaves. PERIOD!
I do believe that traditions and skills should be passed on to the next generation to keep them alive.
The thing that bothers me the most, is that a group of people are trying to change the way these people have lived for hundreds of years without considering their needs or traditions.
I understand that it makes some people sleep better at night knowing that their hand knotted area rug has a tag or sticker on it that says a child did not weave the rug. However that doesn't give them the right to dictate how rug weavers conduct their way of life.
The art of area rug weaving runs deep in the India culture, and having the whole family make rugs is their heritage. Who are we (westerners) to say that we refuse to buy anything that was touched by a child? We read the newspaper that was delivered by a child, we eat meat and vegetables from a farm that children help their parents with.
I do not think that it is fair to go and say that their way of life is wrong and that they need to change it. There is so much corruption and greed in countries like India that it would be impossible to change it.
The injustice of all this is the families who make the area rugs get the very short end of the stick. They aren't paid very much. I think the video said they got $36.00 per rug, that means that they don't even make $100.00 a year and then those rugs are sold over here for hundreds even thousands of dollars. That isn't very fair.
If coffee companies can get fairly traded coffee, why can't rug manufactures/distributors do the same with area rugs?
I think it has to do with the levels of society that exist in places like India. If you are on the bottom level it is very hard to get to the next level and I get the feeling that it is not desired that you try to improve your level. From watching the video it looks like most of the rugs are woven by people on the bottom level.
From the ages of 12-17 I did what I call slave labour. Every August I went with my parents and many other people to the blueberry fields in Nova Scotia, Canada. There we hand raked blueberries, row by row, bucket by bucket while climbing up hills and through bushes.
Yeah that sounds a lot like the stories that start with "when I was young", but you get the picture. It wasn't a fun job, but that is what I had to do to buy clothes for school.
Another point is that these children are learning the art of rug weaving, if it is not passed along from generation to generation who will weave rugs? Plus there aren't too many other options for families to make money to buy food.
I think that the children should first get an education, but that doesn't seem to be an opportunity for every child in India gets due to the corruption of the government. We need to open our eyes and accept that not everyone can live the same way that we are used to.
It is a very nice dream, but until there is no more greed and corruption how can we expect such a thing to happen?
This video has put a human side to rug weaving for me. I was aware of how area rugs were woven, but now I know the conditions, the struggles and sacrifices behind the rugs.
I do not know how to improve or even fix this issue of child labour, but being aware of it can help us make better buying decisions.
Thanks for reading, RugloverMary.