Improving living conditions and building a sustainable industry
Improving the lives of workers and weavers while building a sustainable handmade carpet industry is a complex process. It not only requires producers to follow applicable laws and the Label STEP Standard for fair trade, but it necessitates an informed workforce that can contribute meaningfully to the conversation and the process.
This is where STEP’s “Weaver Empowerment” program comes in. It offers weavers and workers educational opportunities to gain relevant knowledge and improve their wellbeing. In the two years since the program’s launch in Nepal, more than 6,000 have participated in the program. Helping to build “capacity” among workers also contributes to the health of the handmade carpet industry as a whole.
As weaving is most often done by economically disadvantaged members of society — those for whom access to basic necessities and education is challenging — STEP has developed the six different Weaver Empowerment program modules listed below to meet the most immediate needs of workers. The content of modules can be combined and customized to meet the specific realities of different weaving regions and needs of participants.
1) Health and Hygiene
With a strong focus on personal and environmental health and cleanliness, this module covers topics such as: clean and safe drinking water; prevention (including vaccination) and treatment of common illnesses; first aid; family planning; and in instances where weavers are predominantly female, women’s health.
2) Lifestyle and Citizenship
Many weavers are migrant workers, for them working in a carpet manufactory is their first experience away from their home. In this module, STEP places a strong emphasis on adapting to a new environment and, in the case of weavers working in Nepal, adapting to life and work in an urban setting. Citizenship and labour documentation requirements as well as schooling for children are just some of the topics discussed.
3) Workers’ Rights and Responsibilities
Working in a carpet manufactory or as a home based weaver comes with certain rights and responsibilities, some of which may differ from other forms of manual labour. This module actively engages factory owners, contractors, weavers and workers in developing a healthy, strong, and mutually respectful workplace and relationship. Focus is placed on understanding the importance of rest periods, productivity, quality and timeliness. The goal is to ensure that weavers earn a fair living and that the quality requirements of the producers and employers are met in a sustainable manner.
4) The Carpet Industry
Together with perhaps consumers, weavers play the most critical role in the handmade carpet industry. In this module, STEP not only educates weavers about the process of carpet making and distribution, we work to empower them further by teaching dispute management, the advantages of working in their home country versus working abroad, and their rights and responsibilities as part of a global supply chain.
5) Education and the Rights of Women and Children
Many weavers come from an undereducated background and may not understand the importance education plays in lifting workers out of poverty. In this module, STEP explains education as an investment in the future for the children of weavers, stressing non-discriminatory access for all genders. Equality in pay and treatment, the prohibition of child labour, and the dangers of human trafficking are also discussed to ensure workers better understand the nature of their environments and are equipped to safeguard their futures.
6) Financial Literacy
Developed in response to the recurring issue of financial debt among carpet weavers and workers, this module covers: the importance of saving to secure long-term financial stability and quality of life; identifying and reducing expenses; and cultivating strong budgeting and saving habits. Through a combination of audio-visual aids, story-telling, and hands-on work, participants gain awareness, knowledge, and practice. Beyond the training, STEP works to assist participants on their way to greater financial security by helping them to open bank accounts or organize saving groups, for example.
The STEP Weaver Empowerment program is offered to handmade carpet manufacturers who are affiliated with one of our Certified STEP Partners. Helping build personal and professional capacity and empowerment at the grass roots level is just one of the many ways STEP works to ensure a sustainable future for the handmade carpet industry and all those involved.
Contact us if you want to get involved and to ensure that those who weave your rugs are provided the opportunity to benefit from this program.