March 26, 2003 - Star Tribune: Fiji RPCV Stephanie Odegard helps keep child labor from being swept under the rug
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March 26, 2003 - Star Tribune: Fiji RPCV Stephanie Odegard helps keep child labor from being swept under the rug
Fiji RPCV Stephanie Odegard helps keep child labor from being swept under the rug
Read and comment on this story from the Star Tribune on how Fiji RPCV Stephanie Odegard is helping keep child labor from being swept under the rug. Odegard is hailed in the design world for her style and use of environmentally sustainable materials and dyes. She is one of the largest importers of Tibetan carpets and is known for her rejection of child labor and advocacy of children's education and rights in India, Pakistan and elsewhere, where many kids are little more than slave laborers.
The rug trade long has been dogged by the fact that many beautiful "Oriental" rugs often are made by kids toiling in loom houses, damaging their young eyes and fingers, for a few cents per day. Odegard is a founder and director of the Rugmark Foundation, which puts its stamp only on goods made by adults. She invests hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in Rugmark and directly in schools in the villages where her rugs are produced in Nepal and India. Read the story at:
Keeping child labor from being swept under the rug*
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Keeping child labor from being swept under the rug
Neal St. Anthony
Published March 26, 2003
Stephanie Odegard has been making her mark at the confluence of commerce and human rights since she quit an up-and-coming career as a dress buyer at the former Dayton's Department Stores in 1974 at the age of 26.
"I thought for a while that this was my career and that maybe I'd have three kids and live in Minneapolis," said Odegard, a Washburn High School and University of Minnesota grad. "I decided that wasn't what I really wanted."
Odegard and her then-husband joined the Peace Corps. They were assigned to Fiji in the South Pacific, where they worked with local artists to produce crafts attractive to Western buyers.
Odegard's commitment to the development of indigenous crafts in India and Nepal has lasted for three decades.
After her two years in the Peace Corps, Odegard spent a decade as a consultant to the World Bank and United Nations. She struck out on her own in 1987 to prove that she could use the power of business to connect producers and consumers in a way that betters lives.
Today, Odegard, 55, is the owner of the 50-employee Odegard Inc. and its Odegard Rare and Custom Carpets that decorate the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Restaurant Daniel in New York City and thousands of homes and offices of people who pay $4,000 to $20,000 at retail for 9-by 12-foot rugs.
Odegard is hailed in the design world for her style and use of environmentally sustainable materials and dyes. She is one of the largest importers of Tibetan carpets and is known for her rejection of child labor and advocacy of children's education and rights in India, Pakistan and elsewhere, where many kids are little more than slave laborers.
"Little hands do not make the best carpets," she told an audience last week at International Market Square, where her rugs are on display at the Weskuske studio. "That's a myth.
"Weavers who've been at it for 20 or 30 years make the best carpets. And children deserve a childhood and a chance for an education. Know who you are dealing with when you buy a carpet."
The rug trade long has been dogged by the fact that many beautiful "Oriental" rugs often are made by kids toiling in loom houses, damaging their young eyes and fingers, for a few cents per day.
Odegard is a founder and director of the Rugmark Foundation, which puts its stamp only on goods made by adults. She invests hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in Rugmark and directly in schools in the villages where her rugs are produced in Nepal and India.
To some, Odegard is a bit naive. After all, Americans like a pretty rug at the best price.
An executive of Yayla Tribal Rugs, a Massachusetts-based company that supports six schools for children of weavers in Pakistan and India, told the Washington Post last year that rug weaving is a family-based enterprise that "is not child labor in the sense of working outside the home in factories or enterprises. It is multigenerational work for kids who work beside their mothers and grandmothers."
Graham Head, president of ABC Carpet in New York City, called Rugmark's standards "impossible to enforce.
"The work is done in compounds," he said. "Can an inspector just walk in when there is a guard with an automatic weapon?"
Odegard and Nina Smith, executive director of Rugmark, said they do not oppose traditional "child work" in home-based enterprises. They try to prevent the still-widespread child labor in factories.
Such forced labor is illegal in the three countries where Rugmark operates programs -- Nepal, India and Pakistan.
Rugmark-licensed carpetmakers agree to let inspectors make unannounced visits, and the group funds schools and rehabilitation centers for children displaced by the inspections. The work is funded by licensed importers, including Odegard, who pay 1.75 percent of a rug's price for permission to display the Rugmark label.
Odegard, Rugmark's largest single supporter, said her business proves that commerce can provide a better life for skilled artisans and more opportunity for their kids.
"People may say, 'If kids don't have a job, they don't make money and it's worse,' " she said. "I've seen kids who have been kidnapped, enslaved. They sleep in front of the machine, chained. Well, nobody should be robbed of a childhood and some education. In my industry, there's no need to accept poor labor practices unless you want to make something cheaply.
"The carpet industry is a wealthy industry with wealthy people. They can educate consumers about the issue. They can join Rugmark. . . . The prices are a little more, but most people who buy hand-knotted carpets have money anyway."
More about Rugmark and what they are doing to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry
Read more about Rugmark and what they are doing to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry at:
RUGMARK is a global nonprofit organization working to end child labor and offer educational opportunities for children in India, Nepal and Pakistan.
RUGMARK is a global nonprofit organization working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry and offer educational opportunities to children in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. It does this through loom and factory monitoring, consumer labeling, and running schools for former child workers.
RUGMARK recruits carpet producers and importers to make and sell carpets that are free of illegal child labor. By agreeing to adhere to RUGMARK's strict no child labor guidelines, and by permitting random inspections of carpet looms, manufacturers receive the right to put the RUGMARK label on their carpets. The label provides the best possible assurance that children were not employed in the making of a rug. It also verifies that a portion of the carpet price is contributed to the rehabilitation and education of former child weavers.
RUGMARK is a global program under the umbrella of RUGMARK International, which has registered the RUGMARK name and logo as a trademark. India, Nepal, and Pakistan are the three carpet-producing countries currently participating in the RUGMARK program. RUGMARK carpets are sold in Europe and North America and are promoted through offices in the U.S., U.K., and Germany.
To be certified by RUGMARK, carpet-manufacturers sign a legally binding contract to:
produce carpets without illegal child labor;
register all looms with the RUGMARK Foundation;
allow access to looms for unannounced inspections.
Carpet looms are monitored regularly. Inspectors are trained and supervised by RUGMARK. Each labeled carpet is individually numbered enabling its origin to be traced back to the loom on which is was produced. This also protects against counterfeit labels. In addition, nonprofit child welfare organizations not affiliated with RUGMARK have access to RUGMARK certified looms and factories as a double assurance that no children are employed.
In the U.S., only licensed RUGMARK importers are legally permitted to sell carpets carrying the RUGMARK label.
RUGMARK’s rehabilitation and education program is integral to its overall effort to end child labor. Since 1995, RUGMARK schools in India, Nepal, and Pakistan have offered educational opportunities to more than 2,300 former child weavers and children and adults from weaving communities.
RUGMARK places a priority on community-based rehabilitation. This means that every effort is made to reunite the children with their families, so they do not become alienated from their communities. Children who return to their families are given four levels of support, depending upon need:
support for school fees
support for books
support for uniforms
support for other materials
Children over 14 years are encouraged to join vocational training programs, which are also financed by RUGMARK.
RUGMARK schools encourage high academic standards, and every effort is made to help the chldren continue their education at least through high school. Children are also encouraged to attend vocational training courses. This way, they will be able to support themselves when the program assistance ends.
The educational programs are designed so that children first go through an intensive literacy and numeracy training, which prepares them for a formal education. A child, along with his/her parents, decides whether to enroll in a RUGMARK boarding school or to move home and attend a public or private school with RUGMARK support.
In Nepal, the non-formal programs are designed by the government and are meant to take two years to complete. Many children finish the program within 8 months, showing that when they aren’t working and are given proper nutrition, they are able to excel as students.
Formal educational programs include English, Hindi, Nepali, Urdu, math, and science. An emphasis is also put on physical fitness and extra-curricular pursuits, such as music and art..
As of February 2000, RUGMARK India has offered adult literacy programs to carpet weavers and a Self Help program that enable mothers of child weavers to learn to generate income.
Here are the highlights of our country programs:
In India, RUGMARK has built six primary schools in collaboration with local non-governmental organizations. They also run one rehabilitation center for former bonded laborers, and a vocational training center where older children are taught how to fix autos, paint signs, do electrical repair work, sew, masonry and carpet weaving. More than 1,400 children are currently enrolled in RUGMARK India schools. Click here to learn more.
In Nepal, three RUGMARK Rehabilitation Centers offer schooling from K-10, with one offering vocational training in tailoring, textile making, and screen-printing. These facilities are managed by experienced local community organizations. More than 200 children are currently attending RUGMARK Nepal programs. In addition, Nepal RUGMARK Foundation established a day care program for the children of adult carpet weavers working in licensed factories. Click here to learn more.
In Pakistan, RUGMARK has established three schools in Narowal, Faisalabad, and Bahawalnagar Districts and works with eight affiliated schools operated by local nonprofit organizations. Nearly 800 children are receiveing an education at these schools.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Service Advocacy; Child Labor; Rugs; COS - Fiji