A New Tool for Retail Giants to ‘Target’ Child Trafficking

From the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast to loom sheds in the Kathmandu Valley, child labor plagues global supply chains

Nina Smith
Feb 5, 2016 · 4 min read
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Although the number of children exploited in the South Asian rug industry has dropped by about 80 percent since GoodWeave began, an estimated 200,000 still toil on the looms. / U. Roberto Romano, courtesy of GoodWeave International

As many of us ushered in a new year, there was a different kind of party underway in the backyard of the GoodWeave’s center in Kathmandu, Nepal. One unlike any other. Forty two boys and girls were celebrating a new beginning — a rebirth of sorts.

Behind the laughter and cheer was a dark story: Each of these children had been rescued from exploitative labor. Most were trafficked from their rural villages and brought to the city to weave rugs with false promises of paid work and protection.

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Through the hidden alleys of Kathmandu, GoodWeave’s veteran inspector Drona will go as far as it takes to end child labor. / U. Roberto Romano, courtesy of GoodWeave International

These kids were all found by inspectors who travel to back alley looms, non-descript factories and even to a family’s home — following the supply chain of GoodWeave member companies who are taking the most robust steps to operate with integrity.

Established in 1995, GoodWeave is a USAID partner organization that successfully penetrates and remediates this dirty end of the chain where most labor abuse occurs, and the GoodWeave label on the back of handmade rug certifies this, assuring end consumers of their child labor-free purchase.

From the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast to loom sheds in the Kathmandu Valley, 168 million boys and girls are put to work. Many are rendered invisible, existing in the dark corners and crevices of the economy, the lowest tiers of global supply chains.

As GoodWeave marked our 20th anniversary last year, we secured a game-changing partnership with Target and launched our work in new sectors like brick making in Nepal and garment embroidery in India. It was time to think even bigger about how to access parts of the chain still so difficult to observe.

Our new project will help us redefine the term “transparency.” The initiative Supply Unchained — in collaboration with USAID and co-funded by the Skoll Foundation — is a platform that will offer real-time supply chain maps and data down to the most remote production sites.

It is initially being piloted with Target Corporation, but eventually, participating brands, government ministries, NGOs and other stakeholders will be able to access this data in ways to improve conditions for children and workers.

As we brainstormed the new digital dashboard in a USAID co-creation workshop, we decided to map a supply chain from end consumers to the smallest workshop in a village.

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The GoodWeave label on a handmade rug is a customer’s best possible assurance that no child, forced or bonded labor was used in its production. / U. Roberto Romano, courtesy of GoodWeave International

At one point, a participant said, “Sharing data is useless unless someone is going to take it and use it.” And we realized that the biggest demand for it is from the companies themselves, who often don’t have visibility down their product supply chains.

When finished, the dashboard will enable a sustainability officer at Target headquarters in Minneapolis to pull up a page in the system and view a map of their carpet production in northern India. It will reveal all supply chain tiers involved in manufacturing, who the weavers are, and if and where there are violations.

With this fuller picture of what’s going on at the bottom of the chain, GoodWeave will be able to analyze data, proactively engage various actors, support companies in making quick adjustments, and build their capacity to address these issues with suppliers in an ongoing way.

I’ll end where I began — that one-of-a-kind party. It’s an occasion we refer to as the “Common Birthday Party.”

Most of the children we rescue do not know their birthday, let alone celebrate it. So every Jan. 1, we throw a big bash with cake, streamers, gifts and dance. It’s the first step of a rehabilitation process that makes certain these children feel seen.

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The children of Hamro Ghar, GoodWeave’s rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Nepal, celebrate their “Common Birthday Party.” / GoodWeave International

Nina Smith is the Executive Director of GoodWeave International.

U.S. Agency for International Development

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