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Hidden Flaws in Oriental Rugs

Hidden Flaws in Oriental Rugs

September 6, 2007 —

In the 1990s, handmade Oriental rugs became more popular in the United States and Europe. As demand increased, child labor—often in slave-like conditions involving abuse and malnourishment —became rampant in the rug industry. The problem reached a peak in the middle of the decade when approximately one million children worked in workshops and factories. Since then, the situation has improved. In Nepal, India, and Pakistan—where half of the rugs are produced for the $1.2 billion market in the U.S.—child labor has dropped 70% in the past decade. One of the reasons for the decline in child labor is the Rugmark Foundation and other organizations that certify rugs are made without child labor. These organizations include Kaleen, STEP, and Care & Fair. If you see one of these labels, you are probably not contributing to the abuse of children in rug-making countries. If fact, Rugmark and others have set up schools to educate the children it frees from the rug industry's harsh conditions. The Oriental Rug Importers Association (ORIA) opposes independent certification programs. They claim that many of the children work at home, not in dismal factories, and that the kids are an important part of the family economy. ORIA officials say that removing the children hurts families more than anyone else. ORIA has also established schools to help gradually end child labor, but their plan does not take the immediate steps--the way Rugmark's does--to help lift families out of poverty. It seems pretty simple, right? Just find the Rugmark label and you're cool. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to find a Rugmark-certified rug. They account for only $30 million in sales, or 1.5% of the U.S. market. The Rugmark Foundation is doing its best to extend its reach to 15% of the market in the next ten years. They won't make it unless consumers look beyond the visual beauty of the designs, find the serious ethical flaws in the making of the rugs, and refuse to bring them into their homes.

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