Monday, July 05, 2004

Employment in Afghanistan

Wired News reports that the largest employer in Afghanistan is the Worldstock division of Overstock.com, which employs more than 1,500 Afghan artisans among a worldwide network of craft workers. Overstock.com does the same in 30 other contries, and there are other companies doing much the same thing. Novica, an online venture backed by the National Geographic Society, sells crafts from a network of more than 2,000 artists around the globe. Alpaca Pete's, a retail chain and website that sells rugs and clothes made from the woolly South American alpaca, buys finished products almost exclusively from a group of about 4,000 Peruvians from the island of Amantani, located in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the highest-elevation lake in the world. Rugmark Foundation is a global nonprofit organization working to end child labor in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Delinear Designs, the 18th company to join Rugmark, put out a press release that says it now ensures that no illegal child labor was used in the manufacturing process. A portion of the company’s proceeds will also benefit educational opportunities for children of those countries.

The deal with Overstock and the others is that the person who makes the item, such as a rug, can get 70% of the selling price. You might have heard about little children making rugs in Pakistan for pennies an hour, so this is a big deal. We are talking about people kept in degrading poverty, now able to support themselves and their families, and to look forward to education and opportunity for their children.

Why is this happening now? Why is it happening at all? Largely because we and they have access to the Internet. There are many other factors, but it is the Internet that allows us to make contact with those who would like to sell to us, and allows them to make contact with each other. These enterprises support thousands of sellers each, which is good. Now we have to get the same level of opportunity to several billion more people in more than two million villages. Remember, we can do it at a profit.

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