Child Labour

One of the sad and enduring myths of the rug business is that fine rugs are made by children whose little fingers can tie tiny knots.  In fact, precisely the opposite is true. Most of the famous weavers through history have been men (and some women), much like the most renowned watchmakers in 19th century Europe were adult men. The making of an exquisitely fine rug would be an impossible task for a child.

That is not to say that child labour isn’t a concern when dealing in hand-knotted carpets. Customers are right to be worried about child labour and to inform themselves so that they can make mindful purchasing decisions.   

First when discussing child labour we think it is important to distinguish between children contributing to the making of a carpet by performing family chores, and children made to work on a carpet to the neglect of their education and childhood.  In most rug-weaving regions, children are expected to help their parents and aid in the support of the family in much the same way that farm kids in the west are expected to help with the chores.  When children are expected to contribute to the household economy doing work that is appropriate to their ages, we don’t think it is fitting to view it through the lens of child labour.  For instance, in Iran, it is very likely that a youngish boy (say 9 or 10) who is going to school will also help to tend to the sheep whose wool is used to make yarn for carpets.  And, in Iran, a girl of 14 or 15 may learn to weave a carpet alongside her mother.  In fact, she or her mother will certainly weave a rug that will form a part of her dowry before she is married.  Weaving learned at home is a specialized skill which can produce a cash income for the weaver.  In Iran, where carpet weaving is still a cottage industry (i.e. work done at home), there is really no opportunity for the exploitation of children through child labour.

In all other weaving countries, hand-made carpets are produced in workshops or factories. As one would expect, labour conditions vary greatly from factory to factory, and some factories utilize child labour.  This is an evil practise that we do not support.  One of the reasons we personally travel to all the places that we buy rugs from is that it gives us a chance to see the conditions under which the carpets are being made (the other main reason is that the closer we get to the loom, the less the rug costs our customers!).  

We do all that we can to ensure that the rugs we sell are produced under the best possible conditions.  However, no carpet factory will remind someone of a Ford factory in North America.  Working conditions are different and workers have fewer rights.  In contrast, a weaver in Iran works at home and at his or her leisure.  If buying an ethically produced carpet is your utmost concern, we strongly encourage you to consider a Persian (made in Iran) rug.   In a global economy in which most of what we consume in the west is mass-produced very far away, we take pride in supporting one of the few cottages industries remaining.