It is only recently that India in a process of liberalisation, evolves a policy of promoting more export and import of consumer products. One of the main reasons is money, as it brings much foreign exchange and maximises the profit by the government and industrialists.
Among the many lucrative export products, one is the carpet. The carpet industry is spinning an annual foreign exchange of Rs. 1500 crores (approx. U.S. $ 500 million) which is coming from the main carpet importing countries as the United States of America, Germany, England and other European countries. The harsh truth why this is a profitable industry, however is because of its cheap labour force spinning the patterns; namely children under the age of 14 years being severely exploited in this industry.
Instead of having a healthy joyous childhood with the basics of primary education, these children are lured into the darkness of the carpet loom units. Chained to the laws of the employer the bonded child labour is too young and mute to raise his voice and just obeys his master. Separated from their parents, without nutritious food and breaks these children work for 14-16 hours in poorly ventilated workspaces, regularly beaten up because they work not hard enough or ask for their parents. The nimble fingers spin the carpets without seeing daylight without seeing any payment.
As these carpets are exported, the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) launched a big Consumers Awareness Campaign in European countries and United States about the inhuman malpratices in the carpet industry. Consumers in these countries were ignorant of how the carpets actually are made. As the consumers and others got deeply concerned about child labour in carpet making, h result was big drop in the import of these carpets. Public pressure of Germany and other European countries on the issue of child labour in India and other Asian countries is rapidly increasing. The U.S. Senators even moved a bill to ban all the products made by children entering into the U.S.
SACCS has the determination to eradicate this form of modern slavery i.e. debt bondage and child labour in the carpet industry but is not against the export of carpets of carpet industry. It wants child labour to be replaced with adult labour and advocates affixing labels after scientific and independent inspection & monitoring.
For the last three years SACCS worked out the idea of labeling carpets which are not made by children. This label called the RUGMARK guarantees the buyer/ consumer that the carpet is manufactured without child labour. Together with representatives of carpet industry, Indo-German Export Promotion Programme (IGEP – a trade promotion organisation), UNICEF, Carpet manufacturers (who do not employ children), NGOs etc. a system was developed and named RUGMARK (RMF).This foundation acts as an international, independent, legal. Professional and non –commercial certification and monitoring system to guarantee after random checks at carpet looms by professional experts that not a single child is working in these units. If all the certification criteria officials are fulfilled by the carpet manufacturers/ exporters and loom owners and the inspections carried out by the RUGMARK officials indicate absence of child labour, then the carpet manufacturer/ exporter is licensed by the RMF to use the RUGMARK logo for his carpets.
Let the RUGMARK be a model and trend – setter for other products also where child labour constituent exists. Because compared to carpet industry in which more than 300,000 children are employed there are other industries also which totally account for about 67 million child labour.
THE LONG ROAD TO THE “RUG MARK FOUNDATION”
Confusion exists around the initiative of RUGMARK. Was it imposed on India by western countries or was it an initiative of India itself? What is the exact of SACCS in this initiative? Many more questions and nerve – racking apprehensions can only be answered by presenting candid information covering all aspects. The RUGMARK initiatives was under immense stress and attracted both positive & negative criticism from carpet manufactures / exporters and main carpet importers. The reason could be lack of right knowledge of aims and objectives of the RUGMARK Foundation and the circumstances that compelled to conceive on a labelling system.
Crusade against Child Servitude
The crusade against Bonded Labour and Child servitude in carpet industry was launched in 1983 and Mr. Kailash Satyarthi has been the spirit and nerve center of this movement. During the struggle it was felt that children were the worst victims of this scourge because the burden of slavery fell on them right from birth for no fault of theirs. They are the most vulnerable physically and mentally. They can be intimidated easily. Moreover in servitude the relationship equation of employer and the employed is reduced to that of master and slave. The master has complete control over the physical, mental and intellectual attributes of the slave. The slave has to implicitly carry out the orders of the master without question. The master can abuse, insult, rape, torture and physically liquidate the slave. There is no union to raise the voice against exploitation, injustice and crushing of human rights.
The phenomenon of child servitude is almost similar in the South Asian countries. Against such a backdrop, a coalition of like minded NGOs of South Asian countries came into being to wipe out this menace thro’ concerted efforts pooling and sharing their resources, experience and expertise.
Mirzapur-Varanasi-Bhadohi areas of Uttar Pradesh have already acquired the dubious distinction of the biggest child labour belt accounting for about 300,000 children in carpet manufacture. Though the Government and the industry were unanimous in declaring that there are no child labour in the industry, SACCS and its associates had been freeing thousands of child slaves thro’ direct interventions, raids and seeking help of High Courts and Supreme Court. Till date more than 50,000 have been got freed from various economic sectors of which over 15,000 alone is from carpet industry. Only recently, the Government and the industry have acknowledged the presence of Child labour in the carpet sector as a result of the campaigns initiated by SACCS and like-minded NGOs.
Lack of Political & Administrative will
One of the paramount causes for the perpetuation of child labour is the total absence of political will to change this menace. There are many legal instruments i.e. Child Labour Acts, Factory Act etc. that categorically prohibit employment of children in any factory and / or hazardous industry. But the tragedy is that the law enforcing agencies are corrupt and apathetic, in turn, helping and child employers to carry on with their unlawful business. Though “Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986”, specifies carpet weaving as a hazardous industry, many employers engage children under the garb of family trade, posing as relatives of the children. The Child Labour Act has anomalies of this kind, which allow the child employers to circumvent the law. It is reality that till date no child employer has been punished for the violation this law, though, SACCS itself has liberated hundreds of children.
Child Labour still exists in the carpet industry , because the local bureaucracy is hand in glove with the carpet trade and on several occasions, have virtually placed hurdles in the rescue operation initiated by NGOs. The government even attempts to justify child labour on the grounds of poverty, family labour and learning a trade.
Consumers Awareness Campaign
Having received no support from the Government at the national level, ACCS launched a carpet consumer awareness campaign in Germany – major importer of Indian carpets – in 1990 with the help of trade unions, human rights organisations and consumer groups. Soon the campaign spread out to Holland, Sweden, England etc. in Europe besides United States of America. The impact was terrific and the carpet exports to these countries dropped considerably sending waves of panic among the manufacturers and exporters. This also played a catalyst role in expanding the network of organisations supporting the consumer movement. Special mention needs to be made here about organisations like, Bread for the World, Terre Des Hommes, Miserior, German Trade Unions etc. who kept up the momentum of the campaign and till date they are vigorously pursuing the goals. Also in U.S.A.: Asian American Free Labour Institute, Child Labour Coalition, International Labour Rights Education and Research Fund, National Consumer League, in U.K.: Christian Aid, Anti-Slavery International, in the Netherlands: India Committee of Netherlands, in Belgium: India Workgroup, Brussles, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Brussels, in Sweden: Radda Barnen, BLLF Sweden, in New Zealand: Asian Pacific Workers Solidarity Link (APWSL) etc. played a very crucial role in spreading the message across the masses.
The German importers also applied pressure of Indian carpet exporters to remove child labour from their industry or face boycott. Besides, the Government of Germany also took up the issue of child labour with the Indian counterpart. Meanwhile, the Senate of U.S.A. witnessed the introduction of a bill initiated by Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman George Brown an others seeking ban on imports of all products made by children. The European and German Parliaments are also contemplating to legislate on the same lines.
SACCS never advocated for the total boycott of goods. It suggested the buyers to look for products made by adults. Its contention was why children are made to labour destroying their health, growth the childhood when millions of adults are jobless? Removing child labour means opening up of millions of job opportunities for adults. The children should be sent to schools instead of workplaces, books and toys should be in their hands and not sharp and dangerous working tools.
The Concept of labeling system
The decline in carpet exports compelled some of the major manufactures and exports who are associates of the All India Carpet Manufactures Association (AICMA) and the Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC) to seek a dialogue with SACCS to settle the problem. A series of meetings followed and finally on 17 December 91, the AICMA declared that by March 1992 all the child labourers would be sent back to their homes and adults would be employed in their place with decent wages and facilities. Another salient event was about 50 carpet manufacturers broke away from AICMA and formed a separate association called Carpet Manufacturers Association without Child Labour (CMAWCL) pledging not to use child labour in their units. It is pertinent to mention here that this group has been very co-operative and helpful for the formulation of the Label system whereas AICMA and some of the big exporters backed out of the deliberations mid –way under the impression that the Tom Harkin Bill will not become a law or it might get delayed. They also did not take any effective steps to remove children as promised, on the contrary the influx of children was ascending.
In the meanwhile, SACCS continued its efforts to develop further the labelling and monitoring system of carpets made by children. It kept on demanding before the United Nations Human Rights Commission (Sub Group on contemporary Form of Slavery), Geneva that needful steps be taken to ban trade on child made goods and also adopt a labeling system to facilitate the consumer to confirm that a particular product is not child made. In 1991, UNHRC welcomed the demand of SACCS and recommended it in its report as under :
1991/119. * Recommends that products such as carpets whose manufacture is liable to involve child labour should bear a special mark guaranteeing that they have not been produced by children. In this context consumers should be alerted so that they will demand products bearing such a mark.
Working Committee on Rugmark Initiative
For SACCS the recommendations of the UNHRC was one of the factors for a green light of mooting the idea of formulation of an independent international agency comprising representatives of NGOs (engaged in the area of child labour), carpet manufactures, importers, exporters (pledged to deal with carpets free of child labour), international organisation like UNICEF etc. which has the authority to certify the carpets made free of child labour and affix a label to that effect.
SACCS emphasised that this monitoring & labeling system as mentioned above should be independent, non-commercial, professional and international. Because the very important question that arose among the consumers with reference to carpet labels was “Who could fix the labels? To make it credible and reliable, who would inspect the carpet loom units”?
The consumers will have no faith if the labels for the carpets are fixed by manufacturers and exporters themselves. Similarly, they cannot place faith on a label issued by a govermnet agency. NGOs too are not in position to carry out extensive inspections and conduct processing of labeling. Also, SACCS disagreed with the clause in the Tom Harkin bill that self certification by importers that the carpets are free of child labour, will make the carpets eligible for import. When Mr. Kailash Satyarthi pointed out this flaw, the Senator complied and amended the bill.
As reliability, credibility and international authenticity of a monitoring an labeling agency was such an important matter, SACCS discussed on this thoroughly in a working committee attended by many an international organisation, legal experts and professionals. In the succeeding meetings of the working committee held during 1991 – 1994, some concrete steps were initiated in collaboration with Indo- German Export Promotion Programme (IGEP), other NGOs, carpet manufacturers/ exporters, CMACWCL and importers.
IGEP not only agreed to participate in formulation of such an agency but also took responsibility to frame a professional system for inspection and labeling consistent with international standards and requirements. The system was named “RUGMARK Foundation (RMF) and the label RUGMARK”.
Some major carpet exporters did not want to participate in the RUGMARK Foundation as they were afraid that the latter would jeopardise their interests. IGEP who took lead in the process of formulation of RMF wanted the whole thing to be completed before the end of 1993. One of the reasons for this was that the famous DOMOTEX fair held in Germany where some of the finest carpets with RUGMARK logo could be presented. According to IGEP, the RUGMARK initiative would loose its credibility among the traders and the public if the introduction of the logo were delayed any further.
The RUGMARK FOUNDATION
Finally, after prolonged debates and dialectic processes of working committee, RUGMARK Foundation (RMF) was formally got registered on 5 September 1994 as a private limited company under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act of 1956.
A Board of Directors was constituted with the representatives of carpet manufacturers and exporters in India, representatives of NGOs, Indo-German Export Promotion Programme (IGEP) and UNICEF.
The RMF is a non-commercial, independent, international and professional body with legal power to verify, inspect, monitor and subsequently affix a trade mark label, that is RUGMARK logo to the carpets which are not made by children. The RUGMARK label provides that importers & consumers a visual guarantee that these carpets are manufactured without child labour.
The certification system, inspection criteria and labeling system are shaped and calculated in a way that requirements can simply by fulfilled by the carpet manufactures exporters and loom owners. Cost for the inspection of the loom units and the certification has been minimised to bearable level to the carpet trade.
The RUGMARK will go a long way in helping the carpet industry from facing any import ban. The close and trusting co-operation of NGOs, international development agencies, carpet importers and IGEP with the Indian carpet manufacturers reduces child abuse in this industry to a large extent.
RM, hopefully, will contribute towards rise in the exports of carpets made free of child labour and assure a regular inflow of the badly needed foreign exchange into India. Also it will be instrumental in eradicating child labour in the carpet industry, provided employment to adults, reverse the negative image that is presently projected on Indian carpets abroad.
In short the RUGMARK label will bear a computerised code number indicating the details about exporter, manufacturer, loom owner, registration number of the loom, the weavers etc. Any carpet manufacturer/exporter who voluntarily agrees to produce carpets free of child labour can apply for critical inspections and issues of license from RMF.
Finally RMF decides on the right to use the RUGMARK logo. It examines all applicants for membership in detail according to all the RMF requirements and inspection modalities.
The brief history of RMF will hopefully give a better understanding as to how the RMF was development and why it was so important that it is legally formalised. Export of carpets can continue but not on the heavy cost of running future generations as adults can now enter the vacant jobs in the carpet industry.
Main concern of SACCS is the rehabilitation of the freed children as more carpet manufacturers to let their carpets be manufactured by adults and not children. The RM will involve itself narrowly in programmes for rehabilitation.
Follow-up of Rehabilitation & Education
Now the most often repeated question that has cropped up is “what will be the fate of freed children numbering in thousands and how will they be rehabilitated?” Though the onus of rehabilitation of freed children is of the Governments, yet the problem, has been envisaged to be tackled as under:
ampaign partners in Germany viz. : BFW, TDH and MISERIOR have jointly pooled a fund on a modest scale to facilitate the local NGOs to open up rehabilitation and educational programmes for freed carpet children.
UGMARK Foundation has setup a sub-committee to carry out follow-up of rehabilitation thro’ local NGOs.
ollow-up of rehabilitation of about 300,000 children (thro’ NGOs) who would be freed from the carpet industries. The primary responsibility of rehabilitation is of the Government.
assive awareness campaigns thro NGOs for the admission of children in local schools, pressurising the Government to open up new schools.
ccording to necessity opening up of non-formal education centres and health centres in acute backward areas.
To draw up projects for the improvement of social conditions in Indian carpet industry in close co-operation with international NGOs, international developmental agencies like UNICEF, ILO in collaboration with carpet trade.
Total elimination of child labour from carpet industry and employment to unemployed adults.
Uninterrupted pace of trade and export of carpets.
Education and proper rehabilitation of freed children.
With the induction of adults the productivity of carpet industry will improve.
By ensuring full time employment to parents and adult family members the economic conditions of the family will improve.
RUGMARK Foundation has laid down norms and rules for the issue of license and labels to manufactures and exporters of carpets. A licensee is a person or a firm authorised by the foundation to use its logo and labels on the carpets produced free of child labour.
The cardinal criterion is that the manufacturer/ exporters should employ only adult labour for the manufacture of his product. His workplace will be liable for inspections at any time. He/ the firm will apply to RUGMARK Foundation along with the fees for issue of license. Once the foundation is satisfied that the applicant has fulfilled all the required conditions after inspections and scrutiny, a license agreement is made out and this would hold legally. After obtaining the license the manufacturer/ exporter is free to use the RUGMARK label in his carpets. There would be regular and frequent inspection to ensure that he does not use child labour.
The certification criteria covers:
That the applicant is a bonafide dealer, manufacturer or exporter of carpets.
That the applicant agrees to remove child labour if any from his production unit from the date of application.
That the applicant has furnished an updated list of all the looms, loom owners, and other allied workplaces related carpet manufacturing. The loom units should have been registered with Carpet Export Promotion Council.
That the applicant shall certify about the correctness of the list and intimate.
The Foundation in the event of any change. Updating should be done every 6 months to facilitate the inspection team.
That the applicant shall certify that the carpets submitted for inspection are not produced by children (under 14 years of age). In case of dispute on the age of the employee the decision of the Chief Medical Officer of the area will prevail.
Apart from the above, the applicant desirous of RUGMARK licence shall fulfill the following conditions :
Submit a signed declaration that he will not pay less than the official minimum wages to the loom owners. In turn, the loom owner will submit an affidavit to the applicant indicating :
a) No child labour is employed in his workplace
b) All the employees are being paid as per minimum wages declared by the government.
When the above mentioned criteria have been fulfilled and after receiving satisfactory inspection reports from the Foundation inspection, RUGMARK will enter into a licence agreement with the applicant, granting the right to use the logo of the Foundation.
The credibility of the whole exercise of the labeling system very much depends on the clarity and precision of inspection and hence the Inspectors should not only be professionals but committed to ensure the production of child labour free carpets. This calls for integrity and character of high order.
In addition, the NGOs attached to the Foundation also carry out random inspections to plug any plausible loopholes. The lists of looms furnished by the carpet manufacturer/ exporter should be accorded due confidentiality and the lists should be used only for inspections. The Foundation along with the inspection report within a stipulated period.
The parameters governing the loom inspections cover :
Name of loom owner
Location of the loom/ unit.
Evidence such as Registration of the loom with CEPC
No of looms
Name (s), age, sex of the person (s) working in the unit
In case of family child labour evidence of attendance record
Order and other references & description of carpet (s) produced
Name (s) of the agent (s), firm (s), exporters (s) to which the carpets are supplied
Weaving charges per sq. mtre / yard received by the loom owner for his carpets
Every loom unit will be marked by a number with RUGMARK code number for clear identification.
The inspection parameters at the exporter’s place govern :
Details of the source of the carpet(s) with serial number of RUGMARK
Packing list the RUGMARK serial number for each carpet
Weaving charges paid per sq. mtre/ yard by the exporter
Detail of the importer, if identifiable
Checks to ensure the RUGMARK labeled carpets are not mixed with carpets of other sources.
Checks to ensure that same serial numbers are not used again.
The inspections would be carried out as per the methodology laid down by RUGMARK Foundation from time to time
The findings of the inspections will be recorded and documented in a database which is constantly updated and cane be verified at any time.
The documentation of the inspection finding must be clear and categorical to facilitate easy tracing back of any loom unit of a particular carpet at any given time.
The inspection will continue even after the issue of licence to a manufacturer / exporter and violation of the terms and conditions of the agreement would tantamount to cancellation of licence and termination of using RUGMARK labels.
Every carpet will be assigned an internal RUGMARK code number in the date base to identify the following sources.
The actual exporter
The loom owner/ loom unit
Actual loom thro’ which produced
Description of the carpet
For example :- 1234 – 5678 – 9123 – 45 will indicate :
1234 – Exporter, 5678 Loom owner / unit, 9123 actual loom, 45 about carpet.
RUGMARK – the smiling carpet logo –serves as a model and forerunner and would certainly expand its ambit from carpets of other child made goods like matches & fireworks, glass & bangles, brassware, precious gems/ stones, handlooms, beedis and various items. It is a model for other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc. where millions of children are languishing in servitude in different economic sectors. This is a humble beginning and RUGMARK has miles to go to achieve its aims and objectives. It is certainly a Herculean task but not impossible is socially committed souls support and stand by for the noble cause of eradication of child servitude and restoration of the rights of the child.