Sir: You reported (3 May) that major European importers had scrapped orders for hand-knotted carpets from Pakistan.
The tragic death of Iqbal Masih has created unprecedented media coverage for the issue of child slavery and has rightly mobilised public opinion against those who exploit children in the carpet industry. It is however, extremely important that Pakistan is not made a scapegoat for a problem that affects the whole of South Asia and wider. Scrapping orders for carpets from Pakistan allows European importers to allay the immediate fears of their customers, but switching their operations to carpet producers elsewhere in the region ultimately solves nothing.
Instead of depriving the Pakistani economy of another $10m it can ill afford, European partners should instead insist on an independently monitored guarantee that the carpets they do buy are not produced by illegal child labour. Such a regional initiative has been developed by the South Asian Coalition on Children in Servitude. It is called the "Rugmark" and the first carpets bearing this guarantee arrived in Germany last January.
Western buyers should take responsibility for the goods they sell. If they are serious about improving the plight of children like Iqbal, why are they not supporting the "Rugmark" scheme? It is up to us, the consumers, to make sure they do.
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