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Position Paper



From September 1996 until February 1997 a coalition of Dutch trade unions and NGO's - Bilance, Children at Risk/ Churches in Action, Fair Trade Organization, Federation of Netherlands Trade Unions (FNV), General Teachers' Union (AOB), Hivos, India Committee of the Netherlands, National Association of Third World Shops, Novib and Unicef Netherlands - has campaigned against child labour by organizing the petition 'Sign Against Child Labour'. The petition appeals to the Dutch government and the European Union to:
  • support primary education in developing countries and link primary education programmes with programmes aimed at reintegrating working children in the regular school system;
  • support consumer labels that guarantee that products have been manufactured without child labour and abolish import tariffs for these products, beginning with Rugmark carpets and 'fair trade products';
  • make every conceivable effort to immediately abolish extreme forms of child labour such as child slavery, child prostitution and hazardous and dangerous child labour.
This position paper further develops our common position. Chapter 1 gives a rough survey of facts, causes and solutions. Starting from the above appeal to the Dutch government and the European Union, Chapter 2 pursues in more detail the contribution the Dutch government and the European Union can make to the fight against child labour.


I - Child labour: facts and definitions
In developing countries alone, according to estimates of the International Labour Organization (ILO), at least 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are fully at work, including a substantial number of children under 10 years of age. If children for whom work is a secondary activity are also included the number of working children more than doubles and may be estimated at 250 million.1
Probably this still is a gross underestimation of the real extent of child labour, for much of it is 'invisible'. Children work in small businesses, in the countryside or in families as servants or domestic help. As can be seen from these instances much child labour is concentrated in the informal sector. Some of the most extreme and harmful types of child labour can be found there, for instance the child slaves in the carpet industry and the many, often very young, girls from poor families who make long hours in the service of rich families.
However child labour can also be found in the North, for instance in sweatshops or on farms. Mostly the victims are children of minorities or of (illegal) immigrants.

Child labour must be distinguished from child work. Most children work, even if they are protected against child labour. They may help around the home, run errands or help on the family farm. This may learn children to take responsibility and pride in their activities and it may prepare them for adulthood, dependent upon the social and cultural context.
Child labour does not apply to these activities, but to work situations that are detrimental to the health or education of children or just to their childhood. According to the ILO child labour has to do with working too young, working long hours, working under strain, working on the streets, working for very little pay, working on dull repetitive tasks, having to take too much responsibility or being subject to intimidation.2
Most child labour in developing countries is agricultural, informal or domestic, not industrial. Boys more often work in agriculture as compared with girls, who more often work in the home. Girls work often is 'invisible' and less valued, even though it may be much heavier than work outside the home.

In the course of time the ILO has formulated a large number of conventions that set standards in the field of child labour. The Minimum Age convention, 1973 (ILO-Convention 138), is the best known and the most comprehensive. It sets as a general (minimum) standard that children under 15 years of age (or 14 years of age in the case of developing countries) shall not be admitted to employment. ILO convention 138 has been ratified by only a relatively small number of countries, 49 to be precise.

A limited ratification does not apply in the case of the UN Convention on the rights of the child, 1989. Article 32 of this convention provides that States Parties to the Convention recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. The countries that ratify the convention undertake to take the necessary legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of this article, inclusive of providing for a minimum age or minimum ages for admissions to employment. The Convention on the rights of the child has received almost universal ratification.3

Child labour that interferes with the child's education, also contravenes the right of the child to education laid down in the Convention on the rights of the child. Article 28 stipulates that the States Parties to the convention recognize the right to education and undertake to "make primary education compulsory and available free to all."4 The convention also recognizes the right of the child to rest and leisure and to engage in play and recreational activities (Article 31). It follows that child labour is a violation of international treaty obligations and consequently an international human rights' problem.

II - Causes
Why then is child labour still so widespread?
According to Unicef India child labour arises in essence from "the exploitation of the weak and the underprivileged."5 Poverty comes in because poor people are vulnerable for exploitation. If there are no laws or organizations that effectively protect them, the poor have to accept any wage offered, low as it may be. Or accept to be jobless and have their children -who are 'cheaper' after all- work for even lower wages. For this reason child labour is especially prevalent in countries and industries where core trade union and labour rights -such as non-discrimination, freedom of association and collective bargaining- do not exist or find much opposition.
Child labour is as much a cause of poverty as it is caused by poverty. Working children ruin their bodies and minds and in most cases grow up to adults without schooling, predestined to unskilled labour and social powerlessness. Thus results a vicious circle: child labourers grow up to be the poor who are forced to have their children work.
This vicious circle presents itself also at the national level. Large numbers of children who work are also large numbers of children who do not receive any or receive only little education. But education is a fundamental precondition for economic and social development. Countries with low initial education stand to gain enormously by investing in primary education. The Human Development Report 1996 puts that gain at a 4 to 9 percent increase of Gross Domestic Product for each extra year of average primary education of the labour force.6

The link between poverty and child labour is not a law of nature: child labour does not necessarily come in the wake of national poverty. Child labour always means exploitation of poverty. There is always someone to profit from child labour: an employer who needs to pay lower wages or a government that hopes to profit from cheaper exports and cheaper domestic consumer goods. Whether or not child labour continues to exist thus strongly depends upon the political will, at the national and the international level, to put an end to the exploitation of poverty which is child labour and to take the necessary steps and make available the necessary means to do so.

The Indian state of Kerala, one of India's poorer states, presents an example of what political commitment may effectuate. Kerala has succeeded in almost completely eliminating child labour. Making primary education compulsory and available to all was the most important instrument. The distribution of incomes is less unequal in Kerala than elsewhere in India. Kerala has a strong trade union movement and wages are on the average higher. In general social conditions in Kerala are better than in other parts of India, which is reflected for instance in a low child mortality and in a better position of women. The economic achievements of Kerala are certainly not less than those of other Indian states. Between 1987 and 1992 Kerala's annual rate of growth in per capita income (6.2 percent) was almost twice that of India (3.8 percent). Industrial growth improved, and earlier stagnation in agriculture gave way to 7.5 percent annual growth.7

All this does not mean that eliminating child labour globally will not require large investments.
Additional resources of 40 billion dollar would be needed to ensure access for all the world's people to basic social services such as health care, education and safe water. This would contribute in an important way to the elimination of child labour.8
Partly the necessary resourses could be found by developing countries if they realigned their own budget priorities. This is certainly true for those developing countries that enjoy a high rate of economic growth.9 Partly financial aid by the international community will be needed.10 But besides development aid at the international level also the political will is needed to abolish child labour once and for all. So that for instance structural adjustment programmes no longer lead to extra cuts in expenditure on education and social security and the necessary measures are taken to promote international trade in products that have been produced without child labour.

III - Combating child labour
Worldwide a movement has emerged to put an end to child labour in all its manifestations. Child labour is at the top of the agenda of international organizations. National governments in a growing number of developing countries, supported by the ILO, formulate action programmes to tackle child labour. Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) in the South and in the North are active on this front. There is a growing awareness among consumers and the public at large of the inaccepatability of child labour.

Child labour has many manifestations. The most extreme forms of child labour are such a violation of human rights that national governments an international organizations alike should give their immediate suppression the highest priority. This concerns work by very young children (under 13 years of age), child slavery and bonded labour, child prostitution and child pornography, and dangerous work and work carried out under hazardous conditions (for which the ILO has determined a minimum age of 18). Work by children under 13 years of age is extreme because the age of 13 is the age limit under which ILO Convention 138 does not even accept light work by children. Using a minimum-age of 13 also enables the right of the child to a minimum of six years of primary education to be guaranteed.

But the other, 'less extreme' forms of child labour are also at the expense of 'the best interests of the child' and of 'the development of the child' (Convention of the Rights of the Child, Articles 3 and 6).
Fighting child labour requires a two-pronged approach. Immediate steps should be taken to end the extreme forms of child labour. Rehabilitation programmes are necessary for children who have become victims of child slavery and prostitution and of hazardous or dangerous work. Simultaneously prevention of child labour should be put high on the agenda. Proper legislation which is effectively enforced, programmes to combat poverty and exploitation, the provision of free and compulsory education accessible to all, are key elements in the fight against child labour and its prevention. Both child labour prevention and measures to suppress the extreme forms of child labour should be an inextricable part of national and international action programmes aimed at phasing out all child labour in accordance with ILO Convention 138.

Such an approach requires many different measures. The Netherlands and the European Union can both be important actors in each of the three policy fields which are considered in the next chapter. Each of these 'policy fields' will be concluded with recommendations to the Dutch government and the European Union.


I - Primary education for every child
Regular primary education and child labour mutually exclude each other, certainly when children are fully at work and under 13 years of age. Schools are the logical alternative to child labour and historically have played a key role in combating child labour. That speaks for itself: good schools offer children a chance to develop themselves which they cannot have otherwise and precisely because of this contribute much to the social and economic development of countries.11 Compulsory education is a necessary complement of a prohibition of child labour. Conversely prohibition of child labour is prescribed to effectuate compulsory education. Going to school is work enough.
This principle supposes schools that are up to their task of educating children. It supposses sufficient schools which are accessible for all children as regards distance. It supposes good quality education and a well-trained staff. It supposes the active commitment of schools to reach out to the children most at risk: girls, children from marginalized groups and minorities, and children of migrants. Moreover it supposes an education system which enables children from all social classes to attend school: schools and school materials free of charge, at least for those who do not have the means to pay; schools which do not insist that children where school uniforms or otherwise supply them, if necessary, free of charge; schools that provide for necessary extra's, such as school meals.

The magnitude of the task to enable all children to complete at least primary school is apparent from the following: there are some 140 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 not attending school, that is 23 percent of primary school age children in developing countries. Probably an equal number of children drops out of school early and does not complete primary education.12 In other words almost half of the children in developing countries does not receive any or receives only little education.
Putting (compulsory) primary schools at the disposal of all children implies investing in the training of teachers, the developing and making available of teaching materials and the building of schools during a period of years. On top of that comes the task of developing special teaching programs and materials to prepare working children for participation in the regular school system.

Where the best interests and the development of the child (Convention of the Rights of the Child, Articles 3 and 6)13 are at stake it is logical and humane to give those programmes priority that are aimed at the children most at risk and working in extreme situations. That is one more reason to confer the highest priority on suppressing child labour by the very young, i.e. school-age children under 13 years of age, and extreme forms of child labour. Special programmes will have to be effected that give these working children the opportunity to prepare for (regular) school. Only in this way they will have equal chances to receive a proper education as children who grew up in luckier circumstances.
Several countries present examples of educational projects which satisfy the condition of preparing and reintegrating children in the regular school system.14
For the benefit of working children from 14 years up, who are above primary school age, programs wil have to come available that offer the opportunity to acquire basic skills and learn a trade.

The World Bank, the European Union and the Neterlands all support programmes to renew and extend primary education in developing countries. The largest and most ambitious example of these is the District Primary Education Programme in India. Ten Indian states paticipate in this program, which receives liberal financial assistance from the World Bank, the European Union and several bilateral donors, among others the Netherlands. The programme focuses on improving the quality of education. Special emphasis is given to enlarging school enrollment and participation of girls.
No specific strategies have been developed as part of this programme however to reach out to children who now work full-time to have them go to school. Consequently the most marginalized children, who very often work in the 'most intolerable' circumstances -for an employer or at home- do not get the chance to go to school or are only offered the opportunity to go to an evening school. The latter possibility not only brings with it a still heavier workload for these children, it also means that they will not have equal chances with children attending regular schools. In this way the existing and often large social inequalities are perpetuated.
The MV Foundation in Andra Pradesh presents an example of how to link renewal of primary education with grassroot mobilization of working children and their parents (see Annex I).

What the Netherlands and the European Union can do:

  • give a much higher priority to aid in investments in primary education in developing countries, beginning with the implementation of the 20/20 initiative15 and where necessary making available additional funds.
  • always link -current and future- development assistance in primary education with programmes aimed at reintegrating working children in the regular school system.
  • use debt relief to free funds for investment in -primary- education in developing countries ('debt for education swaps').
  • support non-governmental 'model-projects' aimed at mobilizing local communities to realize quality education accessible to all. If possible these projects should be set up in co-operation with local government. Children who because of their age cannot enter the first grade of primary school, should be offered bridge courses to enable them to enroll in the higher grades of regular schools.
II - Consumer labels and import duties
Under the impact of strong competition on world markets the expansion of international trade has contributed to the growth of child labour. Many developing countries have liberalized their economies to be able to compete on the world market resulting in a greatly expanded informal sector and increased child labour. Large companies from the North, in search of the cheapest suppliers, relocate their production and 'subcontracted labour' if labour costs increase too much in a certain country. This sets a premium on child labour instead of countering it. Children after all are cheap and they don't organize. Children in developing countries knot carpets, work in the clothing industry, make toys and sow footballs, everything for the sake of export to the industrialized countries.
At the same time a counter movement is taking shape. Consumers, trade unions and NGO's increasingly pressure companies to accept social responsibility in production and procurement. Production without child labour is a major demand. Public pressure has led American clothing companies to introduce -one after the other-corporate codes of conduct and business guidelines which prohibit the use of child labour in production and buying from suppliers who use child labour. As a result child labour probably now is much less prevalent in exportindustries for the American market than only a few years ago.16

Corporate codes of conduct which establish policies and standards on child labour and other working conditions are a step in the right direction. However these have to be complemented by measures to create alternatives for the working children who are 'dismissed'. Companies should co-operate with international organizations, governments, trade unions and NGO's in order to effectuate this. The phased banning of child labour in the Bangladesh garment industry may serve as an example.
To enable a guarantee to the consumer that a product has been made in a socially acceptible way and without child labour a code of conduct offers insufficient security. Such a guarantee requires independent monitoring and transparency as to the application of standards and the possibilities for complaint. Voluntary consumer labels like Rugmark for hand-knotted carpets (see Annex II) and Max Havelaar for coffee and cocoa, fulfil this requirement. In the Netherlands trade unions, NGO's and several trade associations in the clothing sector recently have expressed the intention to introduce a 'clean clothes' label. This label will fulfill the above requirements of transparency and independent monitoring. Companies participating in it will guarantee that they sell only clothing produced in accordance with ILO core labour standards and without child labour. 'Clean Clothes' Campaigns are also on foot in other European countries.

'Fair Trade' products are also important in the fight against child labour and for better labour conditions in the South. Fair Trade organizations pay a fair price to producers with whom they co-operate, that enables producers and their families to make an adequate living. Fair trade criteria include fair wages and working conditions. Even though there is not yet a 'Fair Trade' label in the proper sense of the word, information on fair trade products and the own international monitoring system of the Fair Trade Organizations in different countries, is public and verifiable.

Special rules apply to imports from developing countries. Important is the General System of Preferences (GSP) which concedes preferential (reduced) import tariffs for products from developing countries. At the end of 1994 a social clause was introduced in the European GSP which -as from 1998- allows additional preferences as a special incentive to beneficiary countries which can provide proof that they have adopted and apply legal provisions incorporating the substance of ILO core labour standards concerning trade union rights and child labour.17
Implementation of the social clause will be decided upon in 1997, probably during the Dutch chairmanship of the European Union. The European Commission will make a proposal.
It is hard to imagine any developing country qualifying under this clause for all its export products. However a product-by-product approach, especially if linked with the application of consumer labels, could present an opportunity to stimulate countries and industries to tackle child labour in a planned way. The current GSP appears to admit preferential tariffs for products with a consumer label.
Stimulating countries to combat child labour in a planned way might also be possible by making additional tariff preferences conditional upon an agreement with ILO/UNICEF to implement a time bound programme to eliminate child labour. Dependent on concrete results, which should be specified in advance, additional tariff preferences might be granted reducing tariffs to zero in a step-by-step way.

Recently the Dutch Minister for development co-operation and the State secretary of economic affairs sent a Memorandum to the Dutch parliament on 'Promoting imports of environment friendly and socially acceptable products'. This Memorandum recommends an analysis of products which might qualify for additional preferences on the basis of social and environmental considerations, in preparation of the coming discussion on the implementation of the social clause in the GSP. Although the Memorandum advocates an active approach of consumer labels it does not make clear if extra tariff preferences may be and should be linked exclusively to consumer labels. The latter option would give an important boost to -for instance- a consumer label for products without child labour. To be effective additional preferences for labelled products should be as high as possible. In other words these products should qualify for a zero tariff and also -as suggested in the Memorandum- for a lower sales tax rate.

In addition to this the so called graduation mechanism should not apply in the case of products with a consumer label. Graduation involves transferring preferential margins from (relatively) better-off developing countries to less developed ones. Under this graduation mechanism countries with a (relatively) high industrial development that have a relatively high share in the imports of the European Union in a given sector no longer qualify for preferential tariffs in that sector. Thus -by way of example- preferential tariffs will be abolished as from 1998 in the case of textile products from India and Pakistan. The graduation mechanisme appears to be prompted chiefly by protectionist motives and the effect of a social clause is much diminished by graduation. The social clause intends to give developing countries a positive incentive to put an end to child labour, but child labour and unacceptable labour conditions are most likely to be found precisely in those rapidly expanding export sectors to which graduation may be applied.18

What the Netherlands and the European Union can do:
By supporting independent voluntary consumer labels they can contribute to the fight against child labour and to raising public awareness. This implies:

  • financial assistance for the development and marketing of labelled products and fair trade products, as well as for information to consumers and companies.
  • enabling certification of consumer labels and 'fair trade' marks by an independent authority.
  • application of the lower sales tax rate and of duty free imports (zero tariff) in the case of products from developing countries which have been produced under such certified consumer labels or fair trade marks.
  • step-by-step granting of additional tariff preferences to countries which eliminate child labour in accordance with a time bound programme agreed upon with ILO/UNICEF until duty free imports are realized.

III - Banning extreme forms of child labour
Education and promoting production without child labour by means of trade policy will help eliminate child labour, its extreme manifestations included. The immediate suppression of the most intolerable forms of child labour requires concerted action and international co-operation by governments, international organizations, trade unions, employers' organizations and NGO's. A first requisite for success is strengthening of the already available ILO-instruments, especially ILO Convention 29 (prohibition of forced labour). Child slavery and child prostitution for instance may also be fought by applying the latter convention and in most cases national criminal law. Strengthening ILO Convention 138 by wider ratification contributes also to the the fight against extreme forms of child labour.
A new, widely ratified, ILO Convention complementing ILO Convention 138, which forbids all extreme forms of child labour (and which includes necessary measures and remedies), can be an important instrument in a step-by-step elimination of all child labour. In this regard however it is a matter of the utmost importance to include all child labour by children under 13 years of age in the definition of 'extreme forms of child labour'.

The risk of a new Convention forbidding extreme forms of child labour being used as an excuse not to eliminate child labour in all its forms must be avoided. For this reason any policy aimed at the immediate suppression of extreme forms of child labour should be part of a broader policy and be included in time-bound programmes to abolish all child labour of children under 15 years of age and all hazardous and dangerous work of children under 18.
Of course children working in extreme circumstances often need extra care and attention and special efforts are warranted to get these children into school, but reaching out to these children should not have the effect that other working children do not get the chance to go to school at the same time.
A local mobilization strategy aimed at parents and children to enroll these children in school and improve education cannot limit itself to children for instance who are employed in dangerous jobs or are bonded labourers. Setting up special education facilities exclusively meant for children working in dangerous conditions or under conditions that are extremely damaging creates new divisions in society. It also delays needlessly the effectuation of the right to free and compulsory education for all children.

What the Netherlands and the European Union can do:

  • make every effort to effect the adoption of a new ILO Convention banning extreme forms of child labour, to promote a wide ratification of such a convention, and to strengthen the supervisory mechanism of the ILO; simultaneously ratification of ILO Convention 138 by as many countries as possible should be pursued.
  • urge the ILO to confer the same status on both a new ILO Convention against extreme forms of child labour and ILO Convention 29 prohibiting forced labour, as now applies to ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining.19
  • (in co-operation with the ILO) support developing countries in respect of child labour legislation, framing action programmes against child labour and organizing labour inspection.
  • integrate policies to combat extreme forms of child labour with policies to eliminate all forms of child labour, in particular by promoting the right to education of all children.


Fifteen thousand working children go to school20

"We want to learn and not to work!", a group of gleeful girls of around 10 years of age exclaims. They participate in a four months' summercamp and are being prepared for the fourth grade of elementary school. The camp has been organized by the Indian M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MV Foundation) in the State of Andra Pradesh. During the past few years this organization has succeeded in withdrawing more than 15,000 child labourers from work, including many bonded child labourers, and enrolling them into primary school. These are the poorest, often casteless, children whose parents mostly earn their living as agricultural labourers, if they have work at all.
The MV Foundation tries to involve all parties concerned: children, parents, employers, teachers and government. The MV Foundation believes that all working children should go to formal schools, girls who do domestic work included.

Three thousand volunteers, trained by the MV Foundation, contact parents and children. Often they have worked as a child labourer themselves before receiving an education with help of the foundation.
Invitations for evening classes and three-day 'play-and-learn meetings' serve to motivate the pupils to-be. Often they are made so enthusiastic that they convince their parents that they want to go to school. Well before the school year begins the parents of the 5 to 8 year olds are contacted to have them enroll their children into school. If there is no school the MV foundation provides a teacher for a period of three years if the parents raise the money for a schoolroom or an extra assistant teacher. After three years the government has to take over.

The children's parents are closely involved by means of Village Education Committees and Parent Teachers Committees that carefully monitor the quality of education. The MV Foundation is not looking for conflicts with employers but does make a strong appeal, via the village and parents committees and the volunteers, to their moral responsibility to let the children attend school.

Older children -9 to 14 year olds- have become too old to start primary school in the first grade. During 'bridge courses' of four months they receive intensive training to prepare them for the fourth and fifth grades of regular primary schools. Some of the children then go to government schools and hostels where they receive nutrition and counselling. Others go to local schools where they enter special 'brush up' classes which further prepare them for entering the higher school grades.
Because many girls now attend school the average marrying age has risen from 13 to 18. Another important spin-off is that the wages of adults, especially those of women, have increased substantially because only few 'cheap' child workers are still available.

The MV Foundation has met with so much success that the district government has adopted its method of working. The funds which before were invested in non-formal evening education now are used to improve the village schools. While the foundation itself is active in 300 villages, they also trained several thousands of volunteers and a few hundred assistant teachers for a similar government programme in 800 villages.

The MV Foundation is of the opinion that it has shattered several myths by its work:21

  1. Economic compulsion prevents parents from withdrawing a child from work.
  2. Parents do not feel school education is essential for the child.
  3. Children prefer working to going to school.
In contrast, says the MV Foundation, the programme has demonstrated how parents, irrespective of their economic status have a strong desire to educate their children. It has also shown how parents, once they are assured that their child will be looked after at school, make tremendous sacrifices in terms of time and money to ensure that the child stays in school.


Rugmark: hand-knotted carpets without child labour22

What does Rugmark want?
Rugmark wants children working in the carpet industry to go to school. Their work should be taken over by adults. Rugmark supports children who are working or have worked in the carpet industry with special rehabilitation programmes and with programmes aimed at preventing children being recruited for the carpet industry.

What is Rugmark?
Rugmark is a consumer label. An inspection system monitors the use of the Rugmark label. The label itself is applied to the carpet by exporters who have a Rugmark license. The origins of each individual carpet may be traced by a unique number and a coding system.

Rugmark criteria
The Rugmark label obliges exporters and loom-owners to:

  • Prevent child labour (children under 14 years of age). Loom owners may employ their own children provided proof can be given that all such children under 14 years of age also attend school regularly.
  • Pay adult weavers at least the official minimum-wage.
  • Offer a full list of carpet looms to the Rugmark Foundation and regularly update this list.
  • Admit inspection at all times and make available the necessary information.
Rugmark India and Nepal
Rugmark Foundations currently exist in India and Nepal as far as producing countries are concerned. Both foundations co-operate closely with human rights, child and development organizations. A Rugmark office in Pakistan is in preparation. There are also Rugmark foundations or offices in a number of consumer countries like Germany, the USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. All these country representations are are cooperating in Rugmark International, in which representatives from producing and consuming countries have an equal vote. Rugmark International owns the Rugmark label which is a registered trade mark.

What happens to the children?
Inspection is an integral part of Rugmark. But the Rugmark label only makes sense when the children are offered an alternative. That is why importers in Europe and in the USA assist financially in programmes for the children and their families. They contribute to this purpose 1 percent of the market value of carpets imported. International organizations like Unicef also give financial assistance.

Rugmark schools
In the Spring of 1996 the first 'Rugmark school' opened its doors. The school employs six teachers and has 250 pupils, boys and girls. The children come from villages in the neighbourhood where there are many people who earn their living in the carpet industry. If there would have been no school many of the pupils would have entered the carpet industry as well. At the end of October 1996 Rugmark India opened its first rehabilitation centre ('Balashrya') for children found at the looms during inspections. Around 50 tot 60 children stay in this centre from half a year to two years to receive basic education and vocational training. Medical care and social guidance are provided for. Children who have worked as bonded labourers and/or have been recruited in far off regions do get priority of admission.
In July 1997 Rugmark India opened its second school with 150 students. Both the schools also function as Adult Education Centres to impart non-formal education to adult weavers.
Nepal Rugmark Foundation is supporting 4 rehabilitation centres for children who have been working in the carpet industry. Around 40% of the 200 pupils are girls.

What has Rugmark achieved?
Just as important as the Rugmark projects for children who have been carpet knotters are the larger spin-offs of the Rugmark campaign. In a number districts where children were recruited by carpet manufacturers, the government now is starting dozens of schools. Government inspections on child labour have become more rigorous. Also several organizations, including the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) have started or supported a number of projects both in the 'carpet belt' in Uttar Pradesh and the 'recuiting areas' in Bihar, aimed at prevention of the recruitment of children and at increasing the incomes of their parents.

Some figures
By May 1998 188 Indian exporters had joined Rugmark. Together they have almost 19,000 looms. Meanwhile more than 1 million carpets with the Rugmark label have been exported. Sixteen inspectors working in teams of two are on the road six days a week to supervise looms and verify the absence of child labour and the payment of the minimum wage (around 35 rupees a day).
Rugmark Nepal started in 1996 and now has 32 licensed members and 4 inspectors.

[Annex on Rugmark updated in May 1998]


  1. International Labour organization. Child labour: targeting the intolerable. Geneva: International Labour Office, 1996 (International Labour Conference; 86th Session 1996; Report VI(1); Sixth item on the agenda), p.7.
  2. International Labour Organization. World Labour Report 1993. Geneva: ILO, pp.130ff.
  3. At the end of 1996 the convention had been ratified by all countries with the exception of six: the Cook Islands, Oman, Somalia, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and the United States (United Nations Children's Fund. The State of the World's Children 1997. New York: Unicef / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p.9).
  4. The right to education is also recognized by a number of different treaties which have been widely ratified, a.o. the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  5. 'Child labour: Unicef India position', 1996, p.2: "Child labour arises because of the exploitation of the weak and underprivileged. This results in a wilful abuse of children for profit contravening their basic rights. Those in poverty are most vulnerable to this exploitation."
  6. The first three years of extra education each raise GDP by 9 percent. After that the returns to each additional year diminish to around 4 percent of GDP (United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 1996. New York: UNDP / Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.76).
  7. Human Development Report 1996, p.81.
  8. The State of the World's Children 1997. p.14ff.
  9. See: ILO. Targeting the intolerable, p.114ff.
  10. Redirecting just one quarter of the developing world's military expenditure of 125 billion dollar could provide three quarters of the necessary finances. A shift in the targeting of development aid could provide much of the rest of the necessary amount. For this reason the implementation of the 20/20 initiative which was agreed upon at the Social Summit in 1995 is highly important. The 20/20 initiative calls for developing countries to increase government spending on basic social services to 20 percent and for donor countries to earmark 20 percent of official development assistance (ODA)(The State of the World's Children 1997, p.14).
  11. See note 6.
  12. The State of the World's Children 1997, p.48.
  13. Article 3.1: "In all actions concerning children (...) the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."
    Article 3.2: "States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being (...)."
  14. For instance BRAC schools in Bangladesh and the work of the MV Foundation in India.
  15. See note 10.
  16. Bureau of International Labor Affairs. The apparel industry and codes of conduct: a solution to the international child labor problem? Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, 1996.
  17. The Conventions concerned are ILO Conventions 87 and 98 as to freedom of association and collective bargaining and ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment.
  18. For instance Rugmark-carpets (a textile product) from India and Pakistan would no longer qualify for (additional) tariff preferences. For more information on child labour in other -rapidly growing- export sectors see: Martine Kruijtbosch, 'Child and adult labour in the export-oriented garment and gem polishing industry of India', India Committee of the Netherlands (Landelijke India Werkgroep), 1996.
  19. All members of the ILO subscribe by virtue of their membership to the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining (Conventions 87 and 98). A special supervision procedure, implemented by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, monitors application of these conventions. This procedure applies whether or not a country has ratified them.
  20. From: Landelijke India Werkgroep (India Committee of the Netherlands), 'Kinderarbeid in India' ('Child labour in India'), 1996.
  21. Report and leaflet 'Reaching the Unreached', MV Foundation, Secunderabad, India.
  22. Text from a leaflet of the Coalition for Hand-knotted Carpets Without Child Labour. The Coalition is made up of the Federation of Netherlands Trade Unions (FNV), Children at Risk/Churches in Action, India Committee of the Netherlands, Novib and Unicef Netherlands.


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India Committee of the Netherlands - October 1, 1999