Nepal’s Handmade Carpet Industry

The tradition of handmade carpet making in Nepal was started in the early 1960s with Tibetan refugees working in small workshops in refugee camps to earn a living. A centralised setup in Kathmandu allowed the country to become a pioneer of the modern handmade carpet industry, and carpet production flourished into one of the pillars of the national economy. However, years of political unrest, including a civil war, and the resulting economic instability upset the balance of this once-thriving industry. Production shifted from large, well-organised manufacturing plants to a number of smaller, less exposed workshops. This change had negative impacts for all involved: working conditions worsened; wages became precarious; child daycare centres closed; and production and distribution were disrupted.

Nepal’s carpet industry today is significantly smaller than it once was, but the country has regained its footing as a world leader in high-end handmade carpet production. The once-positive effect of centralization in Kathmandu, however, has now become a challenge for the industry. Overcrowding and the high cost of living in the city has prompted a large number of workers to migrate in search of work, causing a loss of artisanal skill and a critical shortage of skilled workers. The labour remains underregulated and undervalued.

Label STEP in Nepal

STEP has been working in Nepal since 1997 to improve and monitor working conditions, increase weaver capacity, and promote a sustainable, equitable carpet industry. STEP upholds routine monitoring to verify compliance with the STEP Standards and helps build weavers’ and workers’ capacity through the educational Weaver Empowerment program. This program has reached thousands of weavers and workers—helping them help themselves as well as their families. 

Together with industry associations and workers unions, STEP has helped draft and submit carpet industry–specific labour laws with the goal of stabilising the industry and supporting its sustainability. Many newly introduced legal provisions for carpet weavers and workers in Nepal can be traced back to this initiative.

In 2019, STEP, in cooperation with the UKaid funded Skills for Employment Program, launched its successful Artisan Villages project, which is dedicated to establishing a safe and reliable network of jobs in the rural districts of Nepal. Since the project launch, over 7 state-of-the-art workshops have been established, training has been provided to over 500 local weavers, and over 1,500 new jobs have been created.

In 2022, STEP participated in a project to help restore and revitalise Nepal’s Palpali Dhaka industry. This handwoven textile is a strong symbol of the country’s national identity and is involved in every significant cultural ceremony. Using expertise developed through years of fairtrade implementation, STEP assisted in creating guidelines to meet the needs of the Dhaka industry toward fostering a more resilient, skilled and motivated artisan base and a sustainable industry.

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