Over the years many people have asked us whether we have a policy of trading ethically. The answer is YES of course!
We have made it central to the way we do business so that we buy as much as we can at source from dealers and producers whom we like. This has meant that over the 30 years plus we have been selling rugs we have stopped working with some whose attitude we have disliked.
We do not use the same description for all our stock since the second hand rugs have all been made too long ago for us to know anything about the conditions under which they were produced. When we commission new rugs, we adhere to the principle of trading fairly by allowing producers to set their own prices. We do not bargain. If we think prices are too high, we may not place an order.
The issues of trading fairly may sometimes get unfairly reduced to simple components. But we think there are many other facets: we do not bully producers with unfair delivery times, we have never failed to pay, we do not knowingly work with carpet producers who use child labour. But the truth of it is that it takes a lot of influence to really improve the working conditions of workshop employees. If we were to go to the Indian ‘carpet belt’ around Badhohi, and announce our interests in fair and just employment practices we would only see the ‘show’ workshops. The true working conditions would be concealed from us.
We have come to believe that it is through relationships with producers that we may be able to affect change. We are a very long way from being able to say, in all honesty, that we buy only from 100% ethical producers. To issue statements oversimplifying the issues would be dishonest, so we avoid saying anything about our trading policies which we do not feel are completely accurate. I feel that a commitment to truth is also important – that is part of ethical trade too!
Do children still make rugs?
Sadly, in some countries the use of child labour is very widespread, and children are forced to help their families earn a living by working. In parts of India and Pakistan the problem has been particularly severe. There’s a myth that children with their small hands make good weavers. The truth is that children who are forced to work at a loom all day, often in poor light, may become deformed (by lack of exercise) and blind (through lack of light).
The Nomads Tent endeavours to ensure that no child weavers are ever used to weave the rugs we import but we recognise that without an effective monitoring system we cannot ever be 100% sure. In Iran and Turkey the law does not allow children to earn a living as weavers: primary and secondary education are compulsory. Children in Iran and Turkey may be taught to weave but there is no system of virtual slavery which forces children into nightmare bondage. As a result of highlighting the issue (through the media) India has certainly begun to address international concern, though it would still be too early to say it has solved the problem.
Most of our products come from small workshops, often a room in the family home, and materials are sourced locally with limited industrial or chemical processes involved in the supply chain. Furniture from India is mostly sheesham or ‘mango wood’, a fast growing plantation hardwood. Much of our recycled and upcycled furniture is made using wood from old buildings and boat carcases.
Rug weaving involves washing with large amounts of water and some use of chemicals to prepare the rugs before they are sent to market. Restrictions and filtering systems are often applied in this process to minimize damage to water systems. These are aspects of production we have little control of but we do try to buy naturally dyed rugs which is inherently less damaging than some chemical dying systems.
Though pollution of the air, land and sea is so clearly bad news for the planet, we nonetheless can’t avoid the fact that we have to source goods from far away. Many heavy goods such as Furniture and most of our artefacts are shipped by sea which has a much lower carbon footprint than air freight. There’s no economical alternative to air freight.