Nina Smith is the founding Chief Executive Officer of GoodWeave International. Since 1999, she has developed and led its operations that, include standard-setting and product certification programs; its programs for inspecting and monitoring informal supply chains; its market engagement; the removal and rehabilitation of child laborers; and a range of worker-protection programs. The organization now has offices in India, Nepal, Afghanistan, the U.K. and Germany. A longtime advocate for children’s rights and an expert on addressing labor violations in manufacturing supply chains, she has been invited to speak on these issues by Harvard University, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the American Bar Association, TedX–Dhaka, and other organizations. In 2016, she was presented with the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year award. She has also received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s EXCEL Award for excellence in chief executive leadership.
Currently she sits on the board of the Fair Labor Association, and is a practitioner affiliate of the Social Enterprise Graduate Degree program at American University.
Christopher P. Skroupa: What’s been the impact of GoodWeave’s work within corporate human rights?
Nina Smith: GoodWeave’s vision is a world free of child labor. We have been on the front lines of rescuing children from child labor for almost 25 years. Founded by Nobel Peace recipient Kailash Satyarthi in 1994, GoodWeave has pioneered an innovative, holistic system that brings visibility and gives voice to the most marginalized in the informal work sector, assures consumers that products that carry the GoodWeave label are child-labor free, and restores childhood to rescued children.
Working with the private sector to bring transparency and accountability within all parts of their supply chain is at the heart of GoodWeave’s proven system, from the factory floor level down into the informal and hidden levels where the worst abuses occur. Corporations that value both purpose and policy can, and are, taking full responsibility for the human rights of workers. GoodWeave has been instrumental in partnering with many such companies to make this a reality.
For example, in the South Asian carpet industry we have witnessed an almost 80% reduction in the worst forms of child labor across India, Nepal and Afghanistan due in large part to GoodWeave’s efforts. Partnership with 160 global brands, including Macy’s, Target and RH, and their suppliers, as well as with grassroots communities, has been key. While advancing towards our goal of reaching a tipping point in the carpet industry, perhaps one of the most significant human rights advancements within the corporate arena, we have directly rescued and rehabilitated more than 7,000 children from servitude. And, behind that number is 7,000 names and 7,000 faces. One such name is Nirmala, a rescued child-laborer from Nepal.
*Watch Nirmala’s story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkRFO_4hKKY*
Skroupa: How have you seen the dialogue around human rights evolved in the corporate space?
Smith: Our impact goes beyond numbers. One of the biggest impacts that we’ve had is influencing corporate supply chain and sourcing policies. There was a time when companies refused to admit that child labor existed in their supply chains, instead hiding behind policies that would prohibit outsourcing and homework even though such practices were occurring. Today, through dialogue and advocacy, they are reassessing this approach and are beginning to work with us to accept such practices and to clean up their supply chains, including remediating child, forced and bonded labor.
When we started this work in the mid 1990’s, a dialogue around corporate responsibility for child labor, modern slavery and supply chain transparency was non-existent. Today the narrative has dramatically shifted and now includes the need for companies to take full supply chain responsibility from tier one factories to all outsourced production including homeworking. And, partnership with groups like GoodWeave to work within and beyond individual supply chains to address root causes of human rights is paramount. In fact we’ve seen that the time between introducing a company to our work and signing a partnership agreement is greatly reduced, and much bigger players are getting involved, not only partnering with us and other human rights organizations, but also with policy makers and each other.
Skroupa: Has your work impacted multiple sectors? If so, how?
Smith: Our long-term strategy always envisioned that one of GoodWeave’s contributions to the labor rights arena would be to provide a commercially-viable solution to reach through layers of subcontracting down to remote sites and informal homeworkers, who are often intentionally hidden, and ensure their protection and freedom. Our success in the carpet industry has inspired others to establish similar work, for example in the shoe industry in Brazil. And we’ve also expanded our own reach to five new product categories: apparel, jewelry, home textiles, bricks and tea with the potential to reach millions of workers in the coming years. We’ve learned a lot through this new work, most importantly that our model is both scalable and transferable, and that working in more sectors has helped to attract new, influential corporate partners such as C&A and Monsoon Accessorize to work hard on addressing child and forced labor. This is especially important in an era where certification and labeling schemes have become the flavor of the day, and where the proliferation of such schemes that often lack authenticity and integrity creates consumer confusion. Because, ultimately consumer awareness and purchasing behavior will cement our vision of a world free of child labor.
To learn more about GoodWeave and their efforts in human rights visit https://goodweave.org/.
Nina Smith will be speaking on a panel entitled A Force for Change: Business Strategies in the Global Fight Against Child Slavery at the Reframing Human Rights conference on June 27 in New York, NY.
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