NOTE: This is a guest post from Nina Smith, Executive Director of GoodWeave USA.
The first thing I noticed about Sanju Maya–the first child rescued by GoodWeave in 2012–was her hands. I met Sanju Maya only weeks after she was found by our inspectors in Kathmandu. At 11, Sanju Maya has the body of an eight-year-old and hands of an 80-year-old, scarred from countless hours clutching sharp rug-making tools. Sanju Maya worked as a bonded laborer weaving carpets from four in the morning until eight at night, withstanding abuse by the loom owner.
GoodWeave rescued her on January 13th, and already her life is on a new and hopeful course. She is now the first person in her family to go to school, and thanks to GoodWeave, she’s doing it debt-free. In the snapshots taken at Hamro Ghar, GoodWeave Nepal’s residential center for rescued child weavers, Sanju Maya is surrounded by peers who “love her like a real sister,” evident from the girls’ arms draped around one another. However, it’s important to remember that like the physical scars still evident on her hands, there are emotional scars too–and those can take even longer to heal.
Sanju Maya was one of an estimated 30.5 million people living in contemporary forms of slavery in 2011, including bonded, forced and trafficked laborers. Nearly half of those trafficked–more than a million–are children, and only one in 100 will ever be rescued from the hands of their captors.
Thanks to GoodWeave, Sanju Maya beat the odds. But the true power of our model is that it works to prevent trafficking before it occurs–so girls like Sanju Maya don’t have to bear any scars at all. Our random, surprise inspections of looms in Nepal, India and soon Afghanistan are an effective deterrent, leading to a 75 percent reduction in child labor in the rug industry since GoodWeave began. Programs like GoodWeave’s daycare and scholarships for the children of adult weavers are also a powerful tool for prevention, providing a safe place for kids to learn and play rather than prematurely joining their parents in the carpet factories.
The UN ranks human trafficking as the second largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, with its global profiteers bringing in $32 billion annually. Human trafficking expert Siddharth Kara’s forthcoming book Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia uses data from six countries where this practice prevails to measure the “exploitation value” of a slave for various industries, from brick making to stone breaking, which represents the total expected profits the exploiter will enjoy before the laborer escapes, is freed, or perishes. Kara’s analysis reveals that bonded rug weavers in South Asia fetch their exploiters more than a 1,000 percent aggregate return on their initial capital investment–that investment being the paltry amount, an average of $170, paid for each carpet bonded laborer in the region.
Governments, businesses and individuals all have a role to play in ending this practice. Consumers in particular have the power to help combat human slavery through their purchases. When rug buyers demand the GoodWeave label, they send a message to manufacturers that a childhood is more valuable than a carpet, taking away the financial incentive for them to employ kids. Instead of perpetuating trafficking and other forms of slavery, GoodWeave’s industry partners and their rug-buying clients are helping employ adult rug weavers and educate thousands of kids like Sanju–providing a rich return on investment to society.
Momentum in the anti-trafficking movement, which GoodWeave helped pioneer 15 years ago, is growing, from California’s new anti-slavery legislation to Google.org’s first-ever grant portfolio to end modern slavery. And for consumers, there are a growing number of initiatives like Shop to Stop Slavery, Free2Work, The Emancipation Network and the Slavery Footprint to help research the products they are buying and learn about ethical alternatives. Together, we can not only help trafficked girls like Sanju Maya beat the odds, but also change the odds for the better, and for good.
 Kara, Siddharth. Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia. October 2012. Estimate includes 19.2 million bonded laborers, 3 million trafficked slaves and 8.3 million forced laborers.
Photo: Sanju Maya (left) at Hamro Ghar with a fellow GoodWeave student, May 2012. Photo by U. Roberto Romano.