Carpets made in India for US exploit workers, including children: Harvard study

Children comprise 20% of the carpet industry workforce in India, study says.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: A new study, conducted by a researcher at Harvard’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Siddharth Kara, reveals that an alarming number of carpets sold in the US are woven by exploited workers in India.

Siddharth Kara (courtesy of Harvard)
Siddharth Kara (courtesy of Harvard)

Entitled “Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India’s Hand-Made Carpet Sector,” the study says that around 50% of laborers in India’s carpet industry work in conditions that would be classified as forced labor.

Workers are forced to cram into ramshackle factories, usually with absolutely no standards in terms of safety and cleanliness. The laborers are made to work 10-12 hours per day, for at least six days a week, and make far less than the government-mandated minimum wage of 37-50 US cents per hour – in fact, the average was found to be 21 cents.

But, perhaps most alarming, children comprise about 20% of these workers. In the report, Kara talks about how subjecting young children to conditions like this could permanently affect their mental health and development.

“The brutal, corrosive, dangerous, and exploitative conditions suffered by countless child laborers in the handmade carpet sector cannot be overstated,” the report says. “True recovery and re-empowerment of children after enduring extreme levels of physical and psychological trauma is a rarity.”

In carrying out the study, Kara, along with eight field researchers he hired to assist him, documented 3,215 cases of forced labor and 1,406 cases of child labor, equating to about 400,000 child laborers. About 2,010 cases were said to be classifiable as bonded labor, essentially slavery, while many of the children found working in these conditions were sold into it to pay off debts incurred by their parents. The research was conducted over a period lasting nearly a year, between July of 2012 and May of 2013.

Only 18% of the workers owned their own land or place to live, and 10% of the workers were migrants. The ages of the workers ranged from as young as eight years old to as elderly as 80. The production sites of 172 Indian carpet exporters were found to have workers such as these in their factories, a clear violation of Indian laws and human rights.

Currently, Kara is an adjunct lecturer of Public Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. He is the author of an award-winning book, “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery,” and has made a career out of highlighting slavery in the modern world.

He has traveled to more than 25 countries, spread across six continents, since first visiting a Bosnian refugee camp in 1995, while he was a student at Duke University. Kara earned his B.A. from that university, followed by an M.B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from England. He also worked as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, and has been featured as a regular contributor on channels such as CNN, CNBC, and the BBC.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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