Children’s Rights Champions: Nina Smith & Kailash Satyarthi
Satyarthi and Smith founded The RugMark Foundation, a global fair trade non-profit dedicated to eradicating child labour in the South Asian rug industry and providing rehabilitation and education to rescued children. Through a combination of campaigning, education and advocacy, RugMark brought to light the plight of child slaves; influenced consumers; and helped retailers source their products ethically.
Satyarthi recalls the moment that set him on the path to campaign for children’s education. On his first day of school he encountered a young boy of his age and his father trying to drum up customers for their shoe-shine business. When Satyarthi asked the boy why he wasn’t at school, the boy’s father replied, “We were born to work. My son is doing what I did at his age and what my father did when he was a child. And we have no money to pay for school.” Satyarthi went on to create The Rugmark Foundation in India.
Smith recalls an encounter with a woman in Guatemala trying to sell a beautiful, intricate necklace for pennies – probably less than the cost of materials, and certainly less than her labour. The encounter played on Smith’s mind and she became involved in the burgeoning fair trade movement. Smith believed that given the choice, consumers would buy (and be willing to pay more for) a product made under fair and humane conditions. Through her research, she came across Satyarthi’s Rugmark Foundation and, working together, she brought the accreditation to the United States (where the handmade rug industry is estimated to be worth well over $1bn).
The foundation receives a percentage of every sale of an RugMark accredited rug and reinvests the money to rescue and rehabilitate exploited children (over .
How to bring about change
- Do what produces the greatest impact. RugMark chose to target the rug industry as it has one of the highest rates of child exploitation. Children as young as four are often sold or kidnapped and forced into lives of slavery, suffering physical and sexual abuse as well as vision impairment and deformities from years of working in unhealthy, cramped conditions. Furthermore, child labour is extremely cheap (often unpaid), forcing down wages for adult breadwinners. The US is one of the largest handmade rug markets in the world. Combining these facts, RugMark found an intersection for doing great good at a large scale.
- Be specific. Have a specific cause. People questioned why RugMark had such a narrow focus to which Smith replied, “The specificity of our work is part of what makes it achievable”. Think big, act small.
- Adopt a holistic approach. RugMark knew that to tackle the problem, every stage of the rug industry must be considered, not just the offending factories. RugMark reached out to large retailers, teachers, labour rights campaigners, loom owners, exporters, importers, inspectors and designers to ensure that every stage of the manufacturing process was free of child-labour. Of course, in business, consumers are the ultimate arbiter and Rugmark launched campaigns to raise awareness and influence the rug-buying public.
- Have systems in place. To ensure the important work was being done, RugMark created a network of inspectors to visit factories (up to 16,000 per annum) unannounced. Where children were found, they would be removed to one of RugMark’s rehabilitiation centres and placed into school. More than 3,000 children attend school with RugMark support.
- “Giving to others is much more than the act of financial giving, but rather a philosophy that also embodies social justice”.
- “I got involved.”
- “While experts debate the causes of child labour… RugMark offers a simple action that any consumer can take: choose a certified child-labour-free rug and stop the market demand for exploitative labour.”