Hallmark 'child-friendly' carpet
Importers and sellers of hand-woven Eastern carpets should guarantee in future that their products are not manufactured by children. The FNV, the Novib development aid organisation, the group 'Trapped children' and the India Committee of the Netherlands jointly submitted a letter to over thirty Dutch carpet sellers asking their co-operation with regard to a hallmark for 'child-friendly' carpets.
The letter to carpet sellers fits in with an appeal from the South Asian Coalition against Child Slavery, in which dozens of organisations from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh co-operate. The coalition requests a ban from the European Union on the import of carpets which do not deserve such a hallmark. Moreover, the Dutch organisations appeal to the Netherlands and the European Union to support the rehabilitation of children currently still working, for instance through training programmes.
The discussions about the criteria for the hallmark are in an advanced phase. Affiliated manufacturers would not be allowed to employ children below the age of fourteen and would have to pay at least a minimum wage. The hallmark will have the shape of a carpet with a smiling child's face. So far, forty Indian manufacturers have been involved in the negotiations, as well as the South Asian Coalition against Child Slavery and a German-Indian trade organisation.
According to the International Association against Slavery, established in London, child labour occurs on a large scale in the carpet industry of Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, India, Pakistan and Nepal. The South Asian Coalition against Child Slavery estimates the number of children working in the South Asian carpet industry to be at least one million; 500,000 children in Pakistan, over 300,000 in India and 200,000 in Nepal.
The working conditions of the carpet children are also very poor in India, according to the letter sent to the Dutch sellers and importers. Working days of twelve hours are very common. but even days lasting sixteen hours or more occur. Children are generally sitting on a board in badly illuminated, non-ventilated huts. Inhaling the dust of the wool leads to respiration problems, lung infections and tuberculosis. Nightblindness, skin diseases and malformation of legs and backs occur on a large scale. Children who make errors or do not work quickly enough, are ill-treated. Many children are recruited in the poorest areas of Northern India. Many children are debt slaves; in exchange for a loan, parents from poor population groups are convinced to have their children work in the carpet industry. Child labour is officially forbidden in India. Opponents emphasise that if child labour is abolished, the work can be done by adults at higher wages, benefiting many families, including the children. The letter states that it should be possible, certainly for the manufacturing of carpets for export purposes, to pay adults the usual minimum wage. A number of Dutch management boards have already reacted positively.