Mother Earth Living

Fair Trade Rugs

Artisans create Pakistani rugs for Ten Thousand Villages stores.
By April Thompson
November/December 2006
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With her beautiful hand-knotted rugs, Khalida Bhutt carries on a time-honored Pakistani tradition and helps support her family.

Tying the knot: Jobs are scarce and don't pay well in Halwan, a Pakistani village near the politically tense Indian border. Unlike many of her fellow villagers, 28-year-old Khalida Bhutt has a secure income and a creative, fulfilling livelihood. An artisan for Ten Thousand Villages, she works on a home loom, drawing from Pakistani tradition and her own imagination to create one-of-a-kind rugs. "This job has changed the course of my life," says Bhutt, whose income helps support her parents and household. "I feel respected for my work, and with the wage I receive I am able to plan for the future."

It takes a village: Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit organization, works with artisans in 31 countries and has more than 160 Fair Trade stores across North America. Pakistani rugs, including some by Bhutt, are sold year-round at five Ten Thousand Villages stores and at special rug events in about 30 others. They're also available at

The fair trade difference: The pillar of Fair Trade is guaranteeing a fair wage or price for workers in developing countries. Better income encourages them to make higher quality, more sustainably produced goods. Ten Thousand Villages rug makers are paid per knot rather than by speed or piece.

Children of the loom: Few rug makers are as lucky as Bhutt. One million or more children are illegally employed in the hand-knotted rug industry in India, Pakistan and Nepal, often working as indentured servants. Three out of four carpet weavers in Pakistan are girls under 14 (and sometimes as young as 7 or 8), reports UNICEF. About 42 percent of Pakistani child weavers have never set foot in a school. Artisans whose work is sold by Ten Thousand Villages are at least 14-the country's legal working age-and usually older. Young adults work alongside their parents after school to learn the craft.

Earth tones: Many rugs at Ten Thousand Villages are woven from local, handspun wool. Some fibers are colored with synthetic dyes, although the artisans also make natural dyes from walnut shells, pomegranate skins, tree bark, orange peels, insects and roots. The back of each rug is treated with a neem-tree paste that moth-proofs the rug for life.

"These rugs are a reflection of my culture and my people. They are my art and my livelihood."
—Khalida Bhutt

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