The Transnational Activism and Indias Carpet Industry


However, the enforceability of this convention, like many other U.N. conventions, remains problematic as evidenced by the prevalence of child labor in many parts of the world. ... For example, transnational social activists from India and Germany have made a concerted effort against the use of child labor in the carpet industry in South Asia. ... Child labor legislation and carpet industry in India ... In India, the use of child labor is banned in 25 hazardous industries, including the carpet industry. However, child labor continues to be utilized in the carpet industry in India. ... The use of child labor in the carpet industry was challenged initially by social activists in India. ... Subsequently, Prembhai, a social activist, was appointed by the Supreme Court of India as the commissioner to investigate the incidence of child labor in the carpet industry. ... Further, these groups invited journalists to their meetings, and "as small children in slavery is bad enough to be news," the media responded with extensive coverage of child labor in the carpet industry in India (Kuppers 2000, 1). ... Further, it is important to remember that the flow of human rights norms related to children, in the Rugmark case, was not from the liberal states to India; rather, it was the effort of social activists from India that initially guided German responses to child labor in the carpet industry. ...

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Transnational movements have become an important component of an emerging and relatively recently theorized transnational civil society in the field of international relations. Nongovernmental organizations, social movements, and social activists concerned with the global issues of poverty, environment, and human rights have created an intellectual and political global space outside the national territorial space to give voice to their concerns on issues of transnational importance. This article examines transnational human rights movement around the issue of child labor in the carpet industry in India. Although the intersection of child labor with the carpet trade from India was utilized effectively by Indian and German activists to bring about changes in child labor use, the more foundational impact has been the creation of Rugmark, a label that certifies child-labor-free carpets and provides services for the rehabilitation and education of children involved in the carpet industry.


[*159] ALTHOUGH the discourse on universal human rights has claimed universal appeal and applicability, it is only as recently as 1989 that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations. n1 However, the enforceability of this convention, like many other U.N. conventions, remains problematic as evidenced by the prevalence of child labor in many parts of the world. Transnational human rights groups have been active in their efforts to eradicate child labor and have recently sought to bring publicity to the continued use of child labor through a number of tactics, including exposing the practices of multinational corporations using child labor in other countries and organizing a global march against child labor in June 1998. In addition, many domestic social activists have worked with transnational human rights groups to eradicate child labor in their home countries. n2 For example, transnational social activists from India and Germany have made a concerted effort against the use of child labor in the carpet industry in South Asia. This effort has culminated in Rugmark, a label that identifies child-labor-free carpets. This article seeks to examine the role played by transnational social movements and international trade in the creation of Rugmark and the successes and failures that have marked this effort.

Much of the popular discourse on human rights focuses on the West pressuring developing countries to accept its interpretation of human rights. Indeed, the idea of human rights has been used as a tool to enforce the competitive advantage of Western-based corporations. This article focuses on two themes. First, we will examine a case study where the human rights initiative comes from activists in a developing society, after which coalitions are formed with Western activists, each realizing their own societies share some responsibility in addressing child labor. Second, this case illuminates how child labor intersects with trade and how social movements can utilize international trade to bring about changes in child labor use.


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Transnational movements have proliferated in recent years, with more than 60 percent of active organizations being formed after 1970 and a large percentage having a human rights focus (Smith 1997). Although transnational movements can be traced to the latter half of the nineteenth century (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Boulding 1997), transnational social movements have only recently become an important component of an emerging and relatively recently theorized transnational civil society in the field of international relations. The preoccupation of mainstream international relations theorists, particularly realists, with traditional notions of security reifies the state as the dominant actor in international relations. In addition, the arbitrary separation of the international from the domestic has created artificial dichotomies of outside and inside, with the outside focusing only on international relations and [*160] the inside focusing only on domestic ones. However, as pointed out by many scholars, domestic and international relations are often interconnected, and a substantial literature has developed on the domestic influences of foreign policy and vice versa (Walker 1993). In the past, relatively few scholars have explored the "liminal space that cuts across inside/outside, a space that is neither within the state nor an aspect of the international state system but [that] animates both" (Rudolph 1997, 1). n3 More recent scholarship on transboundary activism has attempted to fill this vacuum and occupy what Rudolph has called the "cross-cutting arena" of the inside/outside (Haas 1992; Brysk 1993; Sikkink 1993; Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco 1997; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Smith, Pagnucco, and Lopez 1998).

Despite the nuanced differences in the scholarly understandings of this phenomenon, as evidenced by the range of terms used--epistemic communities (Haas 1992), transnational social movements (Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco 1997), and transnational advocacy networks (Keck and Sikkink 1998)--there is much in common between them. In general, these scholars agree that nongovernmental organizations, social movements, and social activists concerned with global issues of democratization, poverty, environment, and human rights have created an intellectual and political global space, outside the national territorial space, to give voice to their concerns on issues of transnational importance. They have also organized across national borders to lobby and pressure nations and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations to put an end to abusive practices. However, Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco (1997) caution us from including all types of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) in this category. For these authors, the distinction between most INGOs and ones that are transnational social movements is telling. Whereas the former, like the Trilateral Commission, are status quo organizations seeking to preserve the current distribution of power in the international state system, the latter, like Greenpeace, "seek to bring about change in the status quo" (12) and work toward changing "some elements of the social structure and/or reward distribution of society" (McCarthy and Zald, quoted in Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco 1997, 12). This definition implies that transnational social movements are those INGOs that have a progressively radical agenda. However, not all the changes sought by transnational social movements are progressive, as evidenced by some stances of groups like Greenpeace or various transnational religious movements. n4

Keck and Sikkink (1998) also distinguish between different types of transnational activity. They use a motivation criteria to distinguish between three categories of transnationalism: the instrumental motivations of actors promoting transnational capital flows, such as multinational corporations and banks; those that are motivated by "shared causal ideas, such as scientific groups or epistemic communities"; n5 [*161] and transnational advocacy networks that are motivated by agreed-on norms, "shared principled ideas or values" (30). n6 For Keck and Sikkink, transnational advocacy networks are distinct from international financial institutions and other similar organizations whose goal is linked to the internationalization of capital. Transnational advocacy networks are also distinct from epistemic communities that rely extensively on scientific truths to guide their work. On the contrary, transnational social movements are norm driven; that is, they converge around shared understandings of values and issues. A related premise is that these shared norms and their subsequent advocacy and practice by transnational social movements challenge state action and may lead to state initiatives for policy change.

Practices do not simply echo norms--they make them real. Without the disruptive activity of these actors neither normative change nor changes in practice is likely to occur. States and other targets of network activity resist making explicit definitions of "right" and "wrong," and overcoming this resistance is central to network strategies. (Keck and Sikkink 1998, 35)

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However, implicit in this literature is that human rights violations become associated with norm-violating states. Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink (1999) explicitly make this observation. They argue that transnational networks "put norm-violating states on the international agenda in terms of moral consciousness-raising. In doing so, they also remind liberal states of their own identity as promoters of human rights" (5). Indeed, none of the case studies of human rights violations presented by Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink are Western countries; African, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and Eastern European countries are examined. Unfortunately, the notion that human rights is an issue of a liberal state versus a norm-violating state reinforces the stereotypical division of the world into modern (Western) and traditional (non-Western) societies. Indeed, Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink define the global human rights polity as human rights regimes, human rights INGOs, and Western states. n7

While we agree with Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink (1999) that the role of transnational networks in advancing human rights is crucial, it is too simplistic to present human rights violations as a problem confined to norm-violating states. First, this approach ignores the complicity of Western states in some human rights violations. Second, by defining norm violation solely in terms of states, one underestimates the role of the private sector in human rights violations. Third, the liberal/norm-violating dichotomy essentially overlooks developing societies that may enact significant human rights legislation without arm twisting by Western powers. n8

In this article, we focus on the case of child labor in the Indian carpet industry and the development of Rugmark. In this case, the state's failure to enact anti-child-labor legislation was not the issue. Norm compliance was a significant factor, but more relevant than changing the norms of the state was to bring an [*162] industry into compliance with existing state law. Transnational activism was the crucial element in bringing about significant change, but it had less to do with pressure from Western states than from grassroots organizations that affected economic trade.


Both international legislation and Indian law have contributed to changes in the use of child labor in India.

International legislation on child labor

The International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations have played a critical role in the development of international law regarding children. International child labor laws have been developed under the umbrella of human rights. The ILO was the first international institution to develop and adopt a convention regarding child labor; Convention No. 5 was adopted by the ILO in 1919. It established 14 years as the minimum age for working in an industry (Byrne 1998). Since then, the ILO has adopted nine additional conventions regarding minimum age for work in different sectors. The following are a few critical landmarks regarding child labor laws in the ILO. The Minimum Age Convention adopted by the ILO in 1973, formally known as ILO Convention No. 138, replaces previous conventions on minimum age and requires member states to establish minimum age laws for various sectors of the economy. It sets the general minimum age at 15 years but provides an exception clause for countries with "insufficiently developed economies" that can set the minimum age at 14 years. However, children under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in industries that are deemed hazardous to the "health, safety and morals of young persons" (Cox 1999). A global technical program called the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor was established by the ILO in 1992. It assists member states in eliminating child labor worldwide (Mishra 2000). On 17 June 1999, the ILO adopted Convention No. 182, the "Recommendation Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor." This instrument has raised the minimum age limit for child labor to 18 years. It seeks to prohibit bonded child labor; sexual abuse, pornography, and prostitution of children; child drug trafficking; and child labor in other hazardous industries. It also targets parental poverty, the special problems of female children, and resource availability in the struggle to eradicate child labor.

The 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the broad umbrella under which legislation regarding specific human rights is developed in international law. Two international covenants, collectively called the International Bill of Rights, emerged from UDHR, focusing on civil and political rights as well as on economic, social, and cultural rights. It is under the latter covenant that children's rights get recognition in the United Nations. The [*163] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966 has several articles that are relevant to child labor: the right to an education, the right to be free from hunger, and the right to protection from economic and social exploitation. In addition, Article 10 also recommends that states should set minimum age laws that prevent children from working in industries that are hazardous to their health, safety, and morality. However, it is not a legally binding document. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of a Child is the first legally binding international convention to encompass the full range of human rights for children; "child" is defined here as every human being under the age of 18. This convention seeks to protect the economic, political, social, and cultural rights of children. Of particular importance is Article 32.1, which seeks to protect children from economic exploitation through the provision of minimum age(s) of employment (Article 32.2.a), through the regulation of hours and conditions of employment (Article 32.2.b), and through the provision by nations for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of this article (Article 32.2.c). Children are also protected under this convention from sexual exploitation (Article 34); from abduction, sale, and trafficking (Article 35); and from all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to the child's welfare (Article 36) (United Nations 1989).

The success of international law in promoting national law in a type of norm-osmosis cannot be denied. For example, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most signed and ratified convention in the history of human rights; only two nations, the United States and Somalia, have not ratified the convention, and Somalia is not a signatory as well. However, despite the success of the numerous conventions that address children's human rights, poor children around the world continue to be exploited and are becoming a dominant part of the world's poor and displaced, pointing to the limits of legislative influence. Hence it is argued that even though international law seeks to legislate child labor out of the international political economy, the silence of international law on the amelioration of poverty, corporate behavior, and its imbrication in child labor practices limits its ability to ban child labor.

Child labor legislation and carpet industry in India

Child labor legislation in independent India is grounded in the constitution enacted in 1949. n9 Article 24 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the employment of children in factories and mines and in other hazardous occupations. n10 Article 39 of the Indian Constitution directs the state to protect the safety and morals of workers and children. Article 23 bans bonded labor or any other form of slavery or traffic in human beings. In addition, the Bonded Labor System Abolition Act (1976) outlawed bonded labor, and the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 provides further restrictions on the use of child labor, including regulating the hours and conditions of [*164] work for children under the age of 14 years. However, it does prohibit the use of child labor in 25 hazardous industries (Tucker 1997; Mishra 2000). n11 The carpet industry is listed as one in which the use of child labor is prohibited by the Indian government.

In this case, unlike the formula of developing nations being pressured by Western societies to adopt more progressive human rights legislation, child protective legislation was adopted in India's first independent constitution. Other legislation, for example, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of a Child, has been signed and ratified by India but has yet to be ratified by the United States. In addition, some significant child labor legislation in India preceded similar international legislation. For example, Indian legislation banning the worst forms of child labor in hazardous industries predates similar legislation in the ILO. However, similar to the international legislation on child labor, Indian legislation on child labor fails to legislate child labor out of the Indian economy and society, including the carpet industry. Consequently, although the incidence of child labor in the Indian carpet industry is on the decline, in the 1990s there were still over 300,000 children employed in the handwoven carpet industry in India (Dutt 1995; McDonald 1992; Mehta 1994; Juyal 1993).


Most historians' and popular accounts of the carpet industry in India date the beginning of the industry to the sixteenth century when the Mughal emperor brought Persian carpet weavers to India and set up a carpet workshop in the royal palace. n12 Although the Mughal King Akbar is credited with the introduction of pile carpets into India, his son Jehangir and grandson Shah Jehan are hailed as the Mughal emperors who brought the art of Indian carpet making to its current prominence (Waziri 1986; Saraf 1986; Juyal 1993). Many of the carpets produced during the reign of Shah Jehan are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in other museums across Europe, including a few in the Jaipur museum in India (Saraf 1986).

It is said that during the first war of Indian independence, listed as the Indian Mutiny of 1857 by the British, a number of carpet weavers fled Akbarabad, now known as Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and sought refuge in the villages of Madhosingh-Ghosia, which are located between Mirzapur and Badohi, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, on the Grand Trunk road. n13 To survive, the weavers started carpet manufacturing on a very small scale in this area. In the late nineteenth century, this industry came to the attention of a Mr. Brownford, a Britisher, who established E. Hill and Company in the village of Khamaria. It was soon followed by the creation of H. Tellary in Badohi and Obeetee in Mirzapur (Waziri 1986). n14 It is important to note that other British firms, like the East India Company, Mitchel and Company, and Hadow and Company, were also involved in the procuring [*165] and trading of carpets in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Kashmir. n15 However, Mirzapur-Badohi soon acquired a prominent position in the handmade carpet industry both nationally and internationally. Currently, according to Juyal (1993),

if India shares about 14-18 percent of the global market in carpet/rugs, with a turnover of US, $ 2000 million annually, Mirzapur Badohi alone accounts for about 85-90% of the total value exported from India and nearly 75% of the loomage. . . . the Indian carpet industry has become almost synonymous with what is commonly known as the Mirzapur-Badohi carpet belt. (13)

International trade and the carpet industry

Although the carpet industry traditionally used family labor, using children as apprentices in the making of carpets, the nature of the industry has changed dramatically since colonization. A successful exposition of Indian carpets at the Great London Exposition of 1851 made the Indian carpet industry attractive to British companies. Subsequently, as noted previously, many British companies invested in the carpet industry in India. Not only did the discovery of the carpet industry by British companies integrate carpet making in India with international trade, but in so doing, it changed the nature of the carpet industry. Although commercialization and internationalization of the carpet industry invigorated carpet production, it also led to a transfer of control in the making of carpets from local artisans and weavers to British merchant traders. Western markets and Western tastes became increasingly influential in carpet production, leading to the decline in quality of Indian carpets (Juyal 1993). Further, this increased the exploitation of carpet weavers. Since then, the carpet industry has been one of the major sources of export from India, and control of carpet production continues to remain in the hands of merchant traders, who are now mostly Indians (Juyal 1993).

The carpet industry is one of the most lucrative export industries in India. The Indian carpet export industry cornered a large chunk of the export market in 1974 when the Iranian carpet industry was facing a crisis. n16 The Iranian revolution of 1979, which increased the regulation of exports combined with the closure of U.S. markets to Iranian carpets, further increased the proportion of the global market held by Indian carpets. Although Iran retains the largest share in the world markets, China and India are competing to secure the next largest share. Table 1 shows the major suppliers of hand-knotted carpets in the world and their market shares.





































































































SOURCE: Carpet Export Promotion Council.

NOTE: In millions of U.S. dollars and percentage share (in parentheses).

The carpet industry is one of the main sources of Indian exports. Export earnings from the sale of Indian carpets has been increasing from U.S.$ 316.13 million in 1993-94 to U.S.$ 478.68 million in 1998-99, an increase of about 51 percent. Germany and the United States accounted for approximately 68 percent of these exports. In 1980 and 1986, Germany accounted for 37.3 percent and 36.1 percent and the United States accounted for 20.7 [*166] percent and 21.0 percent, respectively, of the total value of Indian exports. However, in 1998-99, the United States accounted for 40.95 percent and Germany accounted for 27.73 percent of the total value of exports (Juyal 1993; Chadha 2000). n17

Child labor in the carpet industry

In India, the use of child labor is banned in 25 hazardous industries, including the carpet industry. However, child labor continues to be utilized in the carpet industry in India. Official statistics citing an independent survey taken by the National Council of Applied and Economic Research, as shown in Table 2, claim that child labor is on the decline. However, unofficial statistics state that about 300,000 children continue to be employed in the carpet industry in India (Tucker 1997). Child labor includes local and migrant child labor. Local and migrant child labor can be family child labor, wage labor, or bonded labor. Based on some village studies, it appears that child labor in the carpet industry largely comes from the lower castes and that severely impoverished districts provide a large share of the migrant and bonded child labor (Juyal 1993).



CL as a Percentage

Legal Family CL as a

Illegally Hired CL as a


of Total Weavers

Percentage of Total CL

Percentage of Total CL













SOURCE: National Council of Applied and Economic Research cited in Misra


Child labor in the carpet industry is used in preprocessing, weaving, finishing activities, washing, and dyeing. n18 However, nearly 80 percent of children are used for weaving (Juyal 1987). The argument of children's "nimble fingers" has often been used to explain the demand for child labor for weaving carpets. Proclaiming the mythical nature of this argument, activists have argued that the small wages--or no wages--paid to children better account for their demand in the carpet industry.

[*167] Many carpet manufacturers argue that the decentralized and cottage nature of the carpet industry prevents any kind of monitoring by them; loom owners in the villages and in their own houses can use child labor without the knowledge of manufacturers and traders. However, according to Juyal (1993), this picture is seriously misleading. First, the carpet industry has always had an organized sector in which processes other than weaving have occurred, and recently, factories have also incorporated weaving itself. Second, since the process of production is based on export market demand, the process is highly controlled, with contractors, subcontractors, and intermediaries being hired to deliver the goods. Third, Juyal suggests that the unorganized sector of the carpet industry was introduced by merchant traders to undercut the demands of organized labor in the industry.


The use of child labor in the carpet industry was challenged initially by social activists in India. Subsequently, recognizing the export nature of this industry, these activists worked with human rights groups from Germany and the United States to launch a consumer campaign against the use of child labor in the carpet industry.

In India, Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labor Liberation Front, or the BLLF) was initially involved in the campaign to free bonded labor from the Indian carpet industry. Kailash Satyarthi and Swami Agnivesh were two of the prominent social activists involved with the BLLF. On 30 March 1984, 30 bonded children were rescued by the BLLF from the village of Bilwaria in Mirzapur district. Interviews with the children revealed that labor suppliers had obtained these children from village Chichori in the Palamau district in Bihar, which is extremely poor and often serves as the labor catchment area for bonded labor. Many more such raids were conducted by the BLLF, and these raids were brought to the attention of the media and the Indian legal system. Subsequently, Prembhai, a social activist, was appointed by the Supreme Court of India as the commissioner to investigate the incidence of child labor in the carpet industry. Prembhai's interviews with [*168] child laborers established that after the initial payment of 500 rupees, many children had not received any money and were coerced into doing free work. Although the work of the BLLF was invaluable in the freeing children in bonded labor, Satyarthi (1999) said that it was also disheartening to see other children take the place of those who were freed. n19

In 1986, Satyarthi and others founded the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), a coalition of 65 South Asian organizations, including the BLLF, dedicated to the eradication of child labor in South Asia. Currently, SACCS has over 400 organizations as its members and has been involved in the Global March Against Child Labor and the Liberation for Education, Education for Liberation campaign.

Given the prevalence of child labor and the growing demand for Indian carpets in the West, particularly in Germany, Satyarthi sought the help of German nongovernmental organizations to launch a consumer campaign in Germany against the employment of child labor in the carpet industry in India. In May 1990, Satyarthi addressed human rights organizations in Germany seeking to build transnational coalitions for the eradication of child labor in the carpet industry in India (Satyarthi 1992). Subsequently, Satyarthi, with the church-based human rights groups Bread for the World, Terre des Hommes, and Misereor, launched the Campaign Against Child Labor. Terre des Hommes in Germany, like its international body, had been involved with child labor issues for 30 years (Kuppers 2000, 1). Bread for the World is a Protestant agency that works toward the eradication of poverty and hunger in the world. Misereor is a Catholic agency involved in international aid work. In addition, the Federal Association of Oriental Carpet Importers (Germany), the German Trade Union Association, and the Association for the Protection of Children (Kinderschutzbund) also assisted in advocacy work (Brandstater 1991).

In some cases, the activism of the Campaign Against Child Labor necessitated a significant change of position by major players in the coalition. For example, according to Satyarthi, the initial response of Bread for the World was not encouraging. Bread for the World had defined its goals as eradicating poverty and hunger as an international donor agency. Its initial assessment of the grassroots strategy for addressing child labor was a reluctance to become involved in political causes. Ultimately, the coalition realized that to be effective it must also pursue a political strategy. Armed with data about the prevalence of child labor in the carpet industry, Satyarthi met with national organizations that then mobilized their local church groups. As consumers, church group members asked carpet dealers, including department stores, for child-labor-free carpets, and they refused to buy the merchandise on hand (Puetter 2000). Further, these groups invited journalists to their meetings, and "as small children in slavery is bad enough to be news," the media responded with extensive coverage of child labor in [*169] the carpet industry in India (Kuppers 2000, 1).

Initially, many Indian carpet manufacturers and German importers denied that child labor was used in the carpet industry. However, the threat of a consumer boycott from its main importer, Germany; the German government's expressions of concern to the Indian government; a marginal decline in the import of carpets to Germany; and the spread of the child labor campaign to Holland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States forced the All India Carpet Manufacturers Association (AICMA) and Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC) to begin a dialogue with SACCS to resolve the problem. AICMA membership was divided. Some members claimed that child labor was necessary to keep prices low, some claimed that no child labor was being used, and some felt Satyarthi's strategy should be pursued. In December 1991, AICMA declared that it would ensure that all child laborers would be sent back to their homes (Kruijtbosch 1995). More important, the carpet manufacturers most concerned about the child labor issue severed their ties with AICMA to form the Carpet Manufacturers Association Without Child Labor (CMAWCL). These manufacturers remained steadfast in their commitment to work against the use of child labor in the carpet industry.

Further, in 1991, Satyarthi spoke at the U.N. Human Rights Commission's (UNHRC) subgroup on the contemporary form of slavery. In 1991, UNHRC passed a resolution supporting the creation of a special mark indicating that child labor was not used in the production of the carpet. In addition, the resolution advocated an information campaign promoting the boycotting of all goods manufactured with child labor.

By developing a transnational network of social activists in India and in Germany and by developing global sentiment against the use of child labor, as evidenced by the UNHRC's endorsement of a label, Satyarthi was able to foster the conditions for the creation of Rugmark. After several years of negotiations with CMAWCL, the Indo-German export Promotion Council, Gessellschaft fur Technische Zussammenarbeit, other nongovernmental organizations, and carpet exporters and importers, the Rugmark Foundation was incorporated in September 1994 as "a private, voluntary, non-profit entity" under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act of 1956 (Rugmark n.d.). The label provided by the Rugmark Foundation in New Delhi indicates that a hand-knotted carpet is child labor free. It also guarantees that the adult carpet weaver has been paid minimum wage (Williamson 1995; Kruijtbosch 1995).

In carpet-producing countries, Rugmark licenses carpet exporters, collects the license fees of 0.25 percent of the export value of the carpet, and carries out surprise inspections on the registered looms of registered carpet exporters. n20 Further, Rugmark is also engaged in social and rehabilitation programs with children whom it has discovered at the looms. Currently, there are Rugmark Foundations in the carpet-producing [*170] countries of India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

In carpet-importing countries, Rugmark seeks to educate consumers about child-labor-free carpets, promote Rugmark-labeled carpets among importers, collect the license fee of 1 percent of the import value of the labeled carpet, and transfer funds to the respective Rugmark organizations in the producing countries. Licensed Rugmark importers are now located in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, with licenses pending in several other countries (Rugmark 2000b).

In Germany, where the international headquarters of Rugmark is based, Rugmark-Germany is "attending to marketing, promotion, public relations and educational work as well as the label administration for Europe and the international coordination" (Rugmark 1999). Recently, in the United States, Rugmark carpets became available through the advocacy of the New York-based Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Washington, D.C.-based Child Labor Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the National Consumer League, several political and religious leaders, and the Rugmark Foundation.


The success of transnational activism and Rugmark can be measured on several fronts: (1) the number of licensees, both importers and exporters, with Rugmark; (2) the number of Rugmark carpets exported; and (3) the norm-creating effect it might have. In India, there are 218 licensed exporters registered with Rugmark. As mentioned previously, many former members of AICMA broke away and formed CMAWCL, whose members became licensed by Rugmark. In addition, many of the remaining AICMA members also registered with Rugmark. Currently, 27,968 looms are registered and under inspection (Rugmark 2000a). Rugmark continually monitors looms to ensure that child labor is not being used. Of the 54,416 Rugmark inspections during 1998-99, only 794 looms were found employing child labor (Rugmark-India 1998-99). In India, nine Rugmark schools provide education and social care for approximately 1300 children. Rugmark has also established a rehabilitation center, Rugmark Balashrya, for children rescued from the industry. Upon the initiative from weavers themselves, Rugmark has established four adult education centers that provide education for 120 weavers. In terms of its presence in the market, in 1999 the 1.5 millionth Rugmark carpet was imported into Germany, with Rugmark sales reaching DM 118 million (Rugmark 1999).

Although Rugmark has not succeeded in banning child labor, nor has it been accepted by all importers and exporters, it has succeeded in diffusing the norms surrounding human rights and child labor in the Mirzapur-Badohi carpet belt in India. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, carpet manufacturers justified the existence of child labor in the carpet [*171] industry on the basis of poverty, the welfare of the industry, and so on. They claimed,

The government rather than realizing the gravity of the situation [faced by the industry], is proposing to bring up measures to raise the minimum wages on the pretext of regulating the wages of bonded child workers, which shall prove suicidal to the development of the industry. (Sridhar Mishra, quoted in Juyal 1987, 7)

Formulation of the Child Labour act and its implementation in the Industry is another uncalled for interference by the government. . . . [The law is] totally impractical [in an industry] where artisans work at their own place and earn handsome wages irrespective of their being adults or children. (Carpet-e-World 1991)

In contrast, the industry now carefully argues against the prevalence of child labor and provides schools, health care facilities, and alternative labeling mechanisms. In a letter to the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission in New Delhi, AICMA (1998) asked that

children working for wages be identified, rehabilitated, given free education and a stipend to compensate for wages lost. The industry, through the Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC), alive to its social obligations, has already set up a corpus for this. It has opened several schools in this area and proposes to expand its welfare activities further.

AICMA (1999) also provides a list of social and educational activities--"a free in-house health clinic," "free mobile medical van-cum-ambulance," support of a "primary educational programme," assistance in the "registration of looms," and an "awareness campaign"--carried out under its aegis. Further, other institutions, such as the Kaleen (carpet) label sponsored by CEPC, seek to provide an alternative labeling system to Rugmark. n21 Care and Fair, sponsored by other German importers, collects money from importers and uses it to create social welfare projects in India and Nepal.

Although the work of transnational movements against child labor led to change in the case of the carpet industry in India, it has also raised as many issues as it has addressed. The success of transnational movements in inducing behavioral change may be more appropriately described as interest driven rather than norm driven. Certainly, one factor influencing the carpet industry's reported change in child labor employment was the fear of losing material benefits. Further, it is important to remember that the flow of human rights norms related to children, in the Rugmark case, was not from the liberal states to India; rather, it was the effort of social activists from India that initially guided German responses to child labor in the carpet industry. As the movement unfolded, an Indian-German coalition, and later a more inclusive transnational coalition, evolved. This involvement cannot adequately be characterized as reminding "liberal states of their own identity as promoters of human rights" (Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999). By implicating Western consumers, through the buying of carpets, in the exploitation of child labor, the movement seriously subverted the identity claims of Western [*172] citizens as the promoters of human rights. Reclaiming this liberal identity required international aid organizations and citizens concerned about human rights to become political and, in part, involved in the new business practices promoted by Rugmark.