Knowing that Nepal has been plagued with child labor problems, I placed a call to the San Francisco showroom representing this brand to inquire whether the rug came with a “no-child-labor” certification. The showroom manager assured me that yes, the rug was certified by an organization called the “Tibetan Rug Labor Certification Company” (TLC). She sent me a photo of the pretty label (left).
I had never heard of TLC before, so I Googled them to learn more about their certification standards and procedures.
I called the showroom back to ask for some additional information. They said they would have to check with Tamarian and get back to me. Hours later, I received a hastily typed Word document from Tamarian explaining that the pretty label on the rug meant, well, nothing of substance. The purpose of the label was to ensure my “piece of mind.” (Rather an ironic misspelling now that I’m typing up this blog post…)
The following day, I received a phone call directly from the founder and president of Tamarian, Steve Cibor. He apologized for the unprofessional document that had been sent to me, and said it was from someone who was new to the company. “Oh!” I said, “That’s no problem, and thank you so much for the personal phone call. I just wanted to know a little more about TLC. Would you mind sending me something?”
“Unfortunately,” he said warmly, “I really don’t have anything I can send to you.”
Huh? So the top guy at Tamarian doesn’t have so much as a one-page document explaining what their beautifully designed, socially responsible label actually means for consumers?
That seemed a little odd to me. Perhaps it seems a little odd to you.
I asked, “Would you be able to put me in touch with some of the other rug companies that are certified by TLC?”
“I really don’t know who else they work with.”
“Do they work with anyone else besides you?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“May I ask why you didn’t just contract with Goodweave [a legitimate certifying body]?”
“That would have been really expensive.”
Quick sidebar: Goodweave is a human rights organization that is funded in part by charitable donations. The certification cost for manufacturers is only 2.0% of a product’s manufacturing cost; please note – this very modest percentage is applied to a cost that does not include overseas shipping, marketing, advertising, showroom space, import duties, or any of the other expenses incurred by a vendor in order to sell a rug in the United States. If the retail cost of a rug is $2000, the certification fee charged to the rug manufacturer is approximately $10.
Call me crazy, but that seems like a fee that Tamarian could pass along fairly easily to socially responsible consumers. I know I would gladly pay such a fee, and I think virtually all of my clients would be open to paying such a fee in order to ensure that no child labor was involved in a rug they liked and wanted to purchase.
There’s one small catch, though. Goodweave certification is NOT so cheap if your factories require some remediation. That can get pretty expensive. But why would Tamarian care about that if they’re confident their factories are up to snuff?
Let me be very clear about something here: I am NOT accusing Tamarian of human rights violations. They might illegally employ children, they might not. I simply don’t know.
What I do know is this: When an industry leader like Tamarian selects a questionable certifying body to oversee their operations, it is disrespectful to socially responsible consumers, and undermines the efforts of legitimate third-party certifying bodies. Your average consumer simply does not have time to research the manufacturing processes of every company that makes something they want to buy. Consumers rely on third-party certification to help them make decisions aligned with their values. And for third-party certification to work, it needs to mean something.
So let me be the first person to clarify on Google what the “TLC” label means to me: It means Tamarian wants to capture some of my socially responsible dollars, but they do not want to open up their factories to a human rights organization I know and trust. And I am left wondering why that is.
I’ve already communicated to Steve Cibor that I will gladly remove this post from the web as soon as Tamarian either obtains a legitimate third-party certification, or removes the seemingly meaningless TLC label from their products.
April 11, 2011 – Steve Cibor just posted a rebuttal to this post online, in which he acknowledges that he was involved in setting up the TLC as a “third-party” organization and was also its first customer. If the TLC has any other customers, he doesn’t mention them. You can read his post here if you are interested.