Behind the Loom

The intricate designs of a handmade rug can tell the story of a
land and its culture. But they can’t tell the story of the often
tiny hands that wove them. Most people looking to bring a room
together with a luxury rug have no idea that their $2,000 design
element may be the work of a child earning little or no money.

Enter the Rugmark Foundation USA, part of a six-country
international nonprofit whose smiling rug label has been assuring
customers since 1995 that their purchases didn’t cost any kids
their childhoods. Each label carries a number that can be traced
back to its origin loom in India, Pakistan, or Nepal-three of the
world’s top exporters of handmade rugs. To make sure that
manufacturers who have signed on to the program aren’t using child
labor, Rugmark’s traveling inspectors make unannounced visits.

Rugmark’s work doesn’t stop at the factory walls, reports
Metropolis (Feb. 2006). The organization uses a
portion of the licensing fees collected from importers to sponsor
and build schools for the more than 3,000 kids Rugmark has removed
from the industry so far. The group also funds and operates
preventive programs, like day care and early childhood education,
for weavers’ children and vocational and literacy training for kids
of working age (14 and older). ‘We don’t always want to be rescuing
kids,’ executive director Nina Smith tells Utne. ‘What we
really want to do is stem the flow of kids into the workplace in
the first place.’

An estimated 300,000 children still work behind looms in
factories and smaller village sites in South Asia, down from about
1 million a decade ago. To drive that number to zero, the
foundation launched a three-year awareness campaign in January,
reports Innovative Home (Summer 2006). Rugmark’s
initiatives include advertising to conscientious consumers,
building promotional partnerships with importers, and reaching out
to architects and designers. The ultimate goal, says Smith, is to
have 15 percent of handmade rugs certified in 10 years.

That’s a tall order for the organization, which, the San
Francisco Chronicle
(March 13, 2006) points out, so far
has cracked only 1.5 percent of the handmade-rug market in the
United States. The challenge, Smith tells the Chronicle,
is to build momentum in the industry.

That means recruiting more and more importers to sign on, and
‘the only way to do that is to build consumer demand,’ Stephanie
Odegard, an importer and member of Rugmark’s board, tells
Metropolis. In other words, the quickest way to an importer’s heart
is through your wallet.

To find Rugmark retailers and importers near you, visit

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.