This letter is published here solely as a courtesy to Tamarian and for reference by The Ruggist. Its inclusion here is not an endorsement, tacit, explicate, or otherwise of its content, tone, or opinions. Moreover, The Ruggist reserves the right to remove the letter without cause or notice at his sole discretion.
Also, please note their may be unintended errors in translating the file from word to HTML and I apologize to my readers and to Tamarian in advance.
The open letter…
n.) Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author.
Preface: The Accusation
My name is Steve Cibor; I am the owner and founder of Tamarian Carpets. I am addressing you in response to a blog that was posted last week by a decorator named Shannon Del Vecchio, where she offers her opinion on my company, and a company in Nepal that we have contracted since January 2010 called Tibetian Rugs Labour Certification Private Limited (TLC). In the post, she made up quotes from me and makes a plug for Goodweave. Almost all of the information in her blog excluding her own opinion is incorrect or simply fabricated. Since I have never blogged or responded to a blog I thought I should first research what it meant (above).
See shannon’s blog and my response (note: my responses to her are indented and in blue italics)
I would like to make one thing very clear, we have never used, nor will we ever tolerate any form of child labor in the production of our rugs. We have never been accused of using child labor, nor has anyone ever seen a child working in the production of our rugs. In Nepal, Tamarian Carpets has and always will be devoted to helping the people of the country and especially the communities involved in the carpet productionî. I used quotations because this is exactly what Nina Smith, the executive director of Goodweave USA, said in an e-mail dated 11-12-2009.
I will inform you to the best of my ability about TLC, and how and why TLC was formed.It all started with a memorandum dated 9-30-2009 that I received from the Oriental Rug Importers Association. This would involve leading rug importers into the USA, Rug Mark India, Goodweave (and staff), a professor of economics, 13 US Senators (and staff), The Department of Labor (and staff), The Secretary of Labor, The Speaker of the House, The Vice President, and The President. And now it also involves Shannon Del Vecchio, a concerned decorator from San Francisco.
1. Child Labor in Nepal
Regarding the memorandum dated 9-30-2009: The contents were in regards to the 9-11-2009 publication of the proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to include carpets made in Nepal on its list of products that would be effectively barred from the government procurement due to the belief they may have been made with forced or indentured child labor. This began with the Executive Order that was issued in 1999, under Executive Order 13126. It also involved a reference to a 9-25-2009 letter to President Obama, which was signed by 13 Senators. I also received two letters from the Secretary of Labor, one to the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, and the other to Vice President Biden. These reference a report titled The Department of Laborís List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. This all hit me pretty hard; I started doing all sorts of research, calling all the different offices involved to find out more information.
I questioned why have I never seen child labor in the rug industry in Nepal after dozens of visits spread over fifteen years? Am I missing something?
While I have been involved in many projects in Nepal over the years involving hospitals, schools, orphanages, and a handful of others–I felt that I needed to play a bigger role in the targeted area of child labor. I had contacted many of my fellow importers to discuss, and some of us filed our response to the office of Child Labor which was due by 10-12-2009, outlining our first hand experiences.
I then contacted the only organization that I could find which dealt with the issue of child labor in Nepal, Rugmark. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Rugmark which involved many emails, meetings and phone calls. I should point out that they were in the process of rebranding to Goodweave USA. I concurrently received information that they may be doing this illegally. Here is one of the two documents that led to my concern: (Rugmark letter).
From what I saw, this was an organization that covered it all, including but not limited to: the inspection of looms for child labor, certification, schools, and environmental/social programs. At the time, we talked about membership. However, I felt that because I was already involved in many projects in Nepal, I only wanted to participate in their certification process. The last thing I wanted was to switch money I was sending to Nepal for Tamarian-sponsored projects to Goodweave-sponsored projects. Unfortunately, they were not able to allow me to participate in just the certification process; it was all or nothing, a stale mate. Since then, we continued to meet and discuss the possibilities.
During this time, Nina introduced me a person doing onsite research in Nepal in regards to child labor, a man in the trenches. We spoke a few times about on the topic and I gathered as much info as he was willing to give. Since his research would end up being submitted to the US Government he had to be careful with what he said. Fine, I just wanted to be pointed in the right direction. Even though I chose
not to work with Rugmark/Goodweave, I still needed to see how I could ensure that there was absolutely no child labor being used in the production of our rugs. He suggested that a third party company
should be inspecting the factories, and we both agreed that the third party should not be connected to an NGO.
2. Full Disclosure Regarding the Conception of TLC
Was I involved with the conception of TLC? Yes.
Was I the first importer to sign up and fill out an application and to contract their services? Yes.
Did I have a pre-determined agenda when I went to Nepal to find a third party inspector? Yes.
Was my goal to do something that would help put an end to child labor in Nepal? Yes.
Did I want to prove to my clients that I am doing everything in my power to show to them we
do not use child labor? Yes.
Did I feel that our industry needed other options for a no-child-labor certification? Yes.
Did I think that that it may cause waves with some NGOís or individuals? NO.
I thought that doing anything was better than doing nothing at all. I thought doing something to help put an end to child labor was a good thing.
The conception of TLC took place while I was in Nepal during late November of 2009. I met with many NGO’s, exporters, manufactures and suppliers to discuss child labor. A few of us gathered many times, with the goal to find a local businessperson who might be well suited to start a company whose sole purpose was to check factories–a true third party with no other agenda than to check looms and factories for evidence of child labor. It was expected they would charge a fee for their service. The name at the top of the list was Tenzing Wangdu, a young Tibetan man who is well connected in Nepal. He has over ten years of experience in the manufacturing of Tibetan Rugs as an overseas production manager. He left in 2007 to go onto other ventures, and has since worked for the United States Embassy in Nepal (for over two years), opened a cafe, and works with Tibetan youth (18-25) to find employment. We approached him and told him about our ideas. We were excited to hear he would love the opportunity to not only help wipe out any form of child labor, but to start another business that would give him a venue to put more local Tibetans to work.
At the time we felt his mission should be:
-Randomly inspect factories for child labor for children under the age of 16.
-Ensure there was no forced or bonded labor.
-Ensure workers were being paid a fair wage, and had safe and health working conditions.
-Each factory or location should be inspected at least once a month and report any violation to the manufacture as well as the importer.
-Remove the child from the factory and try to get them to go to school.
-Hold the manufacture and importer responsible and charge a hefty fine and have the rug destroyed.
-To have no bias or connection to any NGO or non-profit and to charge basic fee for inspections just like a building inspector.
Tenzing went to work on this. He filed for papers with the Government of Nepal Ministry of Finance inland Revenue Department and with the Ministry of Industries Office of the Company of Registrar. Any of us that has had any workings with the Nepal Government knows its not like it is here, you can’t just go down and file a form and become a legitimate company like you can in the U.S., this process took him until January 2010. But he did it, and we signed a contract, paid our fees and he started inspecting each and every loom. For the record no evidence child labor has yet to been found.
3. Responding to Shannon’s Concerns
Current facts: Nepal has a total of eight inspectors for child labor and two of them are designated to the carpet industry, Rugmark has three and we just added one more. That’s a good thing, right?
Is there more work to be done in Nepal? Yes, and the ball is in motion. We are moving in the right direction.
Americans want to make sure that when we buy a product that it is made responsibly. We are known for aggressively voicing our American opinions, morals and ideals on other countries–mostly Third World (which Nepal is). If we expect other countries to conform to our standards, we should also let them go after the American Dream. You should be able to start a company for the right reasons and not be cut off at the knees when you are in the start-up phase.
Shannon the decorator, you feel that because TLC is a young company that has no web site or brochures it is not a reputable company. I would like to inform you that when I started working with the manufacturer of my rugs over ten years ago, he was just starting a business. He had no clients, and little experience. He was formerly a monk, and a thangka painter. I liked him, and took his word that he was going to do what he said he would (just the same way TLC started). Last year he received an award from the government of Nepal and was the third largest single manufacture in the country. He still has no web site, no brochure, no other client but Tamarian. Would you say the same of him? Would you have written the same about him ten years ago when he was starting out? Would you have written the same of me because I was using this no name manufacturer?
When I spoke with you on the phone you requested documentation from my company about another independent company (located in the Third World on the opposite side of the globe). You said if you did not have it in 24 hours you would post a negative blog. You also sent me an e-mail dated 3-30-11, which I responded to the same day, and then with the proof you requested within 48 hours. Here it is again in case you misplaced it. Sorry for the delay, Nepal had power outages. Its very common there. After I responded to your request, you responded with an odd email. You stated I appreciate you sending over these documents but they still don’t answer my primary question, which is this: What exactly does the TLC label mean for consumers?
It’s odd only because you never asked me in our original conversations, and after reading your e-mail, I was told about your blog. I read it, and there you questioned us to the world. But you were not concerned with my response. Also, at no time did you disclose the address of your blog. So here it is, the answer you were looking for:
The label means that this rug has been manufactured in a factory/loom that is inspected for child labor. And it certifies that the rug was made CHILD LABOR FREE.
Conclusion *For Shannon* but Open to the Public:
I want to thank anybody that has taken the time to read this as I felt it was necessary to set the record straight. I also wanted to share with everyone a report funded by the United States Department of Labor, Independent Final Evaluation of the Brighter Futures Program Combating Child Labor Through Education in Nepal, Phase II. Note: Page 9 states ìSectors experiencing the greatest reduction are the carpet factories (child labor is said to be minimal).
Steven T. Cibor