Clients who order handknotted rugs from us (for custom projects or from our collections) will notice the word STEP incorporated into our label on the back of the rug. This is our promise to you and your promise to your client that the rug was produced with the highest possible standards of fair trade.
“STEP” refers to Label STEP, the Swiss-based, non-profit organization operating in all major carpet weaving countries in the world. They work to improve the lives and livelihoods of weavers and workers while building a thriving industry of the artisanal craft of handmade rugs. STEP has been operating since 1995 and we became a member (“licensed dealer”) in 2011. Previously we had worked with an organization that ensures no child labour is involved in the production of carpets, but as we learned more about STEP, we realized we could better support the industry if we adopted a wider view of fair trade - one that championed the prohibition of child labour and also sought to benefit workers, their families, the environment and a sustainable industry.
In order to be granted the right to sew the STEP name into our rugs, we (and other fair-trade-conscious sellers of handmade rugs) pay a percentage of the price of each of our handknotted rugs to STEP. In turn, STEP educates and brings change to the suppliers in our supply chain and monitors their progress.
At the basis of STEP’s work is the STEP Standard - 10 individual standards based on the principles of corporate social responsibility - a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. No abusive child labour is obviously a core standard, but others include: safe working conditions; living wages; limiting hours of work; transparency from suppliers; and minimizing environmental risks.
The process of joining STEP is interesting. First we gave STEP the names of our suppliers and STEP then approached them and helped them build a plan so that “step-by-step” they could achieve all the standards. STEP has inspectors who make both scheduled and surprise visits to our mills to observe and review activity. Every time they make a visit, STEP sends us a report. Because we have been using the same mills in Nepal (2) and India (3) for many years, the reports are very positive and we sleep well at night knowing everyone is working towards achieving the best living and working conditions for the workers.
Over the course of her annual visits to our mills, Creative Matters president Carol Sebert has become so passionate about the impact and potential of STEP, she became a voluntary ambassador earlier this year. As a STEP Ambassador, Carol draws on her industry knowledge, professional network and enthusiasm for ethical production to further STEP’s mission and raise awareness among North American designers, architects and consumers.
"The work STEP does to ensure ethical practices in the carpet industry is critically important, not only for the skilled artisans whose livelihoods and quality of life are positively affected, but also for the health and sustainability of the industry as a whole," said Carol.
While we sleep well at night, we’re surprised the STEP team has time to sleep. Recently, STEP introduced a "Weaver Capacity" outreach program centred on a series of seminars designed to improve workers' knowledge in basic issues such as health and hygiene, lifestyle and the rights of women and children - issues that can have an immediate positive impact on their lives. And last month, with the support of another licensed dealer, Jan Kath, STEP released a music video to raise awareness about one of the challenges facing Nepal and its carpet industry: migrant labour – men leaving to work in countries such as United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Sadly, some of these workers don't survive the experience. This not only leaves families broken but threatens Nepal's ability to continue building a thriving carpet industry - an industry relied upon for the country's most important export product.
"Through years of experience working in the carpet weaving sector, we have determined the best improvements can be made when workers are educated on basic issues which immediately impact their daily lives, and when all those involved in bringing handmade carpets to market plan an active and supportive role in embracing fair trade practices," said Reto Aschwanden, STEP Managing Director.
Increasingly, and with good reason, people who buy handknotted rugs are asking about their provenance. They want to be assured not only that no child labour is involved but that other principles of fair trade have been applied. As a licensee of STEP, we – and you – can reply with confidence.
To learn more about STEP go to: https://www.label-step.org/en/