ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Combating Child Labour with Labels

The 1990s witnessed an increased concern for child labour with human rights groups, industry and consumer groups in the developed world launching several private initiatives to mitigate child labour in particular industries. Rugmark is one such 'labelling' initiative that seeks to provide an economic incentive for manufacturers to stop employing children in the carpet industry. This study based on field research in the districts of Mirzapur and Bhadohi in UP, the heartland of the hand-knotted carpet industry in India asks how much Rugmark and similar labelling initiatives have achieved in their efforts towards containing child labour and the factors likely to impede or boost their initiatives.

The large-scale use of child labour in the hand-knotted carpet industry in Uttar Pradesh in northern India is not a new phenomenon. However, the issue has, in recent years, aroused much concern in India as well as the west, and led to new and promising initiatives to combat it. One such initiative that has attracted much interest is Rugmark, a product-labelling scheme that is based on the desires of western consumers for goods produced under morally acceptable working conditions. By February 2000, over 1.5 million hand-knotted carpets exported from India had carried a ‘Rugmark’ label, which indicated that they had not been made by children below the age of 15. The Rugmark labelling initiative was founded in 1994 by humanitarian organisations in Germany and India with the support of carpet importers and the German government. It attempts to eliminate child labour in the Indian carpet industry by harnessing the desire of consumers in the two leading carpet importing countries, Germany and the US, for child-labour-free carpets. Carpet manufacturers who register with Rugmark commit to not using child labour in production processes and allow the Rugmark Foundation to conduct unannounced inspections of their looms. The Rugmark Foundation then attaches labels to their carpets, thereby selectively promoting the export of carpets made without the use of child labour.

The emergence of labelling programmes like Rugmark is emblematic of global trends. The last decade has witnessed an increased awareness and concern for child labourers in different parts of the world as globalisation has brought goods produced by children to the hands of consumers in industrialised countries. Consequently, human rights, industry and consumer groups in the developed world have launched a number of private initiatives that target child labour in particular industries. These programmes attempt to eliminate child labour not through legal mechanisms, but by providing an economic incentive for manufacturers to stop employing children, and have, most often, taken the form of product labelling schemes. How much can these labelling schemes be expected to achieve? And what are the factors that are likely to facilitate or constrain their success? This paper looks at these questions with reference to Rugmark and its role in mitigating the child labour problem in the carpet industry.

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