More than ten years ago, Label STEP was the first fair trade initiative to start working in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has a rich carpet tradition, and handmade carpets remain one of their most important export goods. Their production employs at least one million Afghans, mostly in rural areas where there are few alternative sources of income. Vast majority of the weavers are women, working from their homes.
The carpet sector faces big challenges: The wages are low, and weaver have no access to social security services. Access to health care and education is difficult in many regions of Afghanistan. The weavers often lack knowledge and awareness of their basic rights as well as for their health and safety at work.
Besides verifying compliance with fair trade standards in its partners’ supply chains, Label STEP focuses on a comprehensive Weaver Empowerment program; carpet weavers in Afghanistan should first and foremost improve their capacities to improve their situation on their own. Label STEP helps them to organize, to exchange and to improve their situation together. As part of the STEP Team, a medical doctor and community workers provide information about health and safety at the workplace and have enabled doctor’s visits for thousands of carpet weavers and their families. The specific support of women and their stronger involvement in the industry, also in positions in the value chain other than weaving, is another key aspect of STEP’s work in Afghanistan.
Alongside daily work in villages, Label STEP makes contact with local producers and exporters, and is excited about their great willingness to collaborate. Contact with public authorities and government has already been made in order to represent the interests of the carpet weavers: The main goal is the continuing increase of weavers’ wages, the access to social services and government support for the carpet branch.
Label STEP is confident that the international market demand for Afghan carpets will continue to grow. Fair trade practices will ensure that the carpet weavers will also benefit from this development.
Since 2016, Turquoise Mountain is a key strategic partner of Label STEP in Afghanistan. The two NGOs currently implement an important project to support Afghan carpet weavers and artisans funded by USAid. In 2019 STEP could further enlarge its impact in Afghanistan thanks to its partnership with the Kabul Carpet Export Center KCEC.
In previous years STEP has collaborated with and got supported by The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ, the World Bank and UNHCR.