In the textile and home decor manufacturing industry, child labor is shockingly common. Children in this industry make products such as rugs, carpets, bedding, towels, and clothing. The exploitation of child labor is especially common in South and Southeast Asian countries like Indian, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
One hundred fifty-two million children globally are child laborers. Although this number has dropped over the past few decades (just two decades ago, that number was 220 million!), there’s still lots of work to be done in the fight against child labor practices.
How Children End Up Making Your Favorite Products
Child labor is usually defined by a child’s age and access to education. In many countries, the minimum working age is 14, even if more schooling is available. Working children under 14 and those over 14 but with more government-mandated education available to them are considered child laborers.
Children end up working in three main ways: home-based or family labor, hired child labor, and child trafficking. GoodWeave sees all forms of child labor in their work.
Child labor is common within industries that don’t rely on mechanized factories. Handmade products are more likely to involve children. That’s because suppliers outsource handmade items to more rural, community-based production centers or even workers’ homes.
Children are a big pool of workers to pull from, especially for less popular industrial jobs. In countries with fewer formalities, a lack of structure or codes, or even just a lack of law enforcement, children are more likely to be found in the workforce.
So what can consumers do to help end child labor? If you’re buying a carpet, rug, or home textile item, you can start by looking for the GoodWeave label.
GoodWeave: The Child-Labor-Free Label
For 25 years, GoodWeave International has been the leading organization working to stop child labor in global supply chains. Consumers can look for the GoodWeave label on carpets and rugs, including a tracking number to assure customers that the item is free of child labor.
GoodWeave’s founder, Kailash Satyarthi, was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Malala Yousafzai. He was recognized “for the struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
How GoodWeave Certifies Products as Child Labor Free
To start the certification process, GoodWeave signs a partner company up for their program. Nina Smith, CEO of GoodWeave, describes this as “the most powerful moment in the process because we can't do what we do without having that kind of partnership from a company.”
The newly partnered company will then require its suppliers to follow GoodWeave’s standards. They must agree to open up their factories and supply chains to GoodWeave’s assessments and team on the ground. The organization has on-the-ground teams in Southeast Asia, specifically in Indian, Nepal, and Afghanistan, with a team in Bangladesh coming soon.
Teams start by assessing the supply chain from end to end. They look for any places where there might be undisclosed production, such as a rural community base. Once the team maps the supply chain, they conduct surprise inspections to ensure that children aren’t working.
GoodWeave’s standard is that children 14 and older can work, as long as they are enrolled in school full-time. In countries where school is compulsory for children older than 14, GoodWeave requires their partners to follow the older age. Children under the age of 14 cannot work, no matter what.
If suppliers have frequent infractions, they risk losing business with GoodWeave’s partnered companies. The field-based work that GoodWeave does is a massive deterrent against using children in the workforce.
What GoodWeave Does for Communities
GoodWeave applies rigorous standards around child labor and forced labor criteria. The organization often identifies more severe problems during its supply chain inspections, including child trafficking cases. It has a set of protocols to ensure children are protected in those circumstances—the organization works to rescue and rehabilitate them.
The organization also implements prevention programs in communities. These programs focus on getting children into school, advancing in school, and keeping them out of work. The goal is to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty and illiteracy that lead to children working in factories.
To date, GoodWeave has directly rescued over 7600 children from child labor. In their focus sector—the carpet industry—GoodWeave has helped reduce child labor use by 80%. You can look for the GoodWeave tag on carpets, rugs, home textiles, and soon other products, too.
Actionable Steps for Consumers to Avoid Child Labor
Children shouldn’t be working to make the products you buy, period. Here’s what you can do to help.
Buy Less & Buy to Last
Smith says that “As a rule, whether it's for carpets, home textiles, or other products, buy less and buy to last.”
Textile-based products are more accessible than ever before to buy, especially for a quick home update or a closet refresh. But that steady turnover in consumers’ homes and closets increases the demand for newer and cheaper products. For suppliers, that means big orders on short notice. And when they don’t have enough workers, they outsource to places that don’t control for labor issues. That’s where children enter the workforce.
Buying a more expensive and long-lasting item means you aren’t feeding into the fast textile industry. Pick something you love—even if it costs more—and keep it as long as possible before buying something new.
Research What You’re Buying
In addition to buying only what you love and want around for years to come, be sure to research what you plan to purchase. You can reach out to companies and ask for their credible, third-party certifications.
The US Department of Labor also has a comprehensive resource: the List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor. It lists items that are known to be produced by children in specific countries.
And for home textiles, check out GoodWeave’s site to see if the brands you love are certified through them before buying. You might be surprised to see names like Target, Macy’s, and Restoration Hardware on their list.
Resources We Mentioned
- Tainted Carpets by Siddharth Kara, Harvard University’s FXB Center For Health And Human Rights, 2014
- List of Goods Made By Child or Forced Labor, US Department of Labor
- GoodWeave’s Where to Shop resource
- Brightly's commitment to featuring brands with fair labor practices