How It's Made: Slavery Swept Under the Rug

September 17, 2015 Cazzie Reyes Photos 
Bonded Labor, Slave Free Lifestyle

What's the difference between a product made by child labor and one made by a fairly paid adult? In the How It's Made series, we'll explore the conditions that slave-made goods are produced in and compare that to slavery-free operations. This week, take a look at the child and bonded laborers producing items for the carpet industry. 

In pockets of rural India, children are locked in shacks and forced to work between 10 to 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week. Paid an average of $0.11 an hour, these children were sold to the trade in order to supplement their family’s income or to pay off inherited debt. The children who are now charged housing, food and miscellaneous fees rarely see any of the money they’ve made and may even build up debt of their own.

The adults in debt bondage don’t fare much better. Muslims earn about $0.20 an hour while Hindus of the lowest caste earn a measly $0.21 an hour. Depending on the Indian state, the stipulated hourly minimum wage should fall between $0.38 and $0.50. However, because these children and adults are heavily in debt, they cannot leave to find better-paying jobs. Guards at the shacks prevent them from leaving, and some workers are beaten for not producing the desired work output.

Siddharth Kara and a team of researchers describe the workers’ working environment: “…the working conditions uncovered were nothing short of subhuman. Factories and shacks were cramped, filthy, unbearably hot and humid, imperiled with stray electrical wires and rusty nails, filled with stagnant and dust-filled air and contaminated with grime and mold. Some sites were so filthy, pungent and dangerous that the researchers were afraid to enter due to the risk to their safety. Sometimes they pushed forward and endured the wretched conditions; other times they simply had to leave a site unexplored. Physical and verbal violence against the workers was all too common.”

In addition to physical and verbal abuse, workers in the carpet industry face health hazards. Eye disease or eye loss, spinal deformation, muscle pain, headaches, malnutrition, pulmonary disease, cuts and infections are common ailments.

In the end, four people working 12 hours a day for two months can make one 5 m. x 5 m. (approximately 16.4 ft. x 16.4 ft.) rug.

These are examples of some natural dyes. Carpet making is a labor intensive and time consuming process. For instance, simply dyeing one bundle of wool can take up to three hours. ©End Slavery Now

In contrast, adult artisans creating hand knotted rugs for fair trade companies are often given all their raw materials and 50% of their earnings up front. They’re paid the other 50% as they’re making the rug.

These artisans get more creative freedom and often only work at the loom six hours a day, five days a week. To see the complete process, watch this video from Bunyaad.

An expert knotter can tie 40 knots per minute, and high quality rugs often have 512 knots per square inch. It would take four to five people working six hours a day nearly one year and two months to finish a 9 ft. x 12 ft. rug on a loom. Such a rug could retail for more than $7,000. 

A higher knots per square inch count means better quality. ©End Slavery Now

The fair trade alternative gives rug-weaving families the opportunity to profit from their craft, and they do so under fair working conditions. Furthermore, this economic activity empowers the women in the community, encourages men to work in their villages and keeps children in school. 

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Topics: Bonded Labor, Slave Free Lifestyle

About the Author



Cazzie Reyes

Cazzie Reyes is a Researcher for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's Anti-Trafficking Programs. She graduated from Bradley University with a Bachelor's degree in International Studies and a minor in Women's Studies.

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