Q: You are clearly one of those German politicians who have a lot of affection for India. Why?
A: Yes, in fact I am currently in India for the fifth time. And I am certain I will be back. I am fascinated by so many aspects of this incredible country. It has marvellous cultural diversity and remarkable religious traditions. All world religions are represented here. It has brought forth wonderful personalities. I will name just Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Through their actions they were able to bring about movement and change and have become symbols of national unity, harmony and religious coexistence. They showed that religious barriers are overcome when we practise the concept of loving our neighbours. They proved that there is no God of hatred, that we are all Gods children. I feel the world still needs such role models, as the current conflicts in various continents have demonstrated.
One further aspect: In the age of globalisation, India plays an increasingly important role. When I speak of globalisation I do not just mean economic development and global trade. For me it is the human factors, the need to respect one another, to tolerate, understand others problems and share their concerns that are important. And of course, I am also very enthusiastic about the Rugmark concept, whose implementation began in India.
Q: You took over as president of Rugmark in January. What does this brand name signify?
A: Rugmark is a very novel concept because it targets the individual and because it is morally magnificent. The objective is to reduce and, as far as possible, eliminate child labour which is still widely prevalent in South Asia. So far Rugmark has concentrated on the carpet industry. Every carpet with the Rugmark label that is produced in India, Pakistan or Nepal is free of child labour. The idea of introducing Rugmark in 1994 came from the consumers. The biggest markets for carpets are in the US, Germany and other European countries. The consumers are prepared to pay a higher price for a Rugmark carpet. The extra profit goes towards helping the boys and girls who are freed from child labour in the three countries mentioned. For example, schools for such children have been built with this money. Education is a key component in overcoming poverty.
Q: How successful is Rugmark?
A: About 2.5 million Rugmark carpets have been sold to date. That is substantial progress, but it is no reason for us to become complacent. The American market needs to be more strongly involved. Rugmark is the bridge between producers and consumers. India as the largest producer and German as one of the main markets are two pillars of the bridge. More countries need to be integrated. That is my task as president. The concept needs to be established world-wide among producers, exporters, importers and consumers.
Q: But child labour does not exist only in the carpet industry?
A: That is correct. At a later stage we certainly envisage introducing Rugmark for toys, fire crackers, footballs or other articles that are produced in developing countries and are attractive for foreign consumers.
While in Delhi (April 4 and 5, 2002) the seven Members of Parliament met the Minister of Power, S P Prabhu, the Minister of Environment and Forests, T R Baalu, the Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation, Maneka Gandhi, and the Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, C M Vasudeva. Furthermore, the German MPs interacted with their Indian colleagues during a meeting and a luncheon.
The delegation also visited Bangalore, Mysore and Coimbatore. In Karnataka they took the opportunity to visit projects implemented by Indian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) assisted through German NGOs which play a significant role in Germanys approach to tackling poverty-related issues in the development process.
Headed by Adelheid Trscher from the Social Democratic Party of Germany the delegation comprised of: Ingrid Becker-Inglau (Social Democratic Party of Germany), Dr Norbert Bluem (Christian Democratic Union), Detlef Dzembritzki (Social Democratic Party of Germany), Joachim Gnther (Free Democratic Party), Dr Angelika Kster-Lossack (Alliance 90 / The Greens), Dr Christian Ruck (Christian Social Union).
Dr Norbert Bluem was Federal Minister for Labour and Social Affairs for 16 years under Chancellor Kohl. Dr Bluem, visiting India for the fifth time, is one of the driving forces behind the rugmark-initiative to prevent children from weaving rugs as cheap labourers (see also interview with him in the next article).
A delegation from the German Parliaments Standing Committee for Economic Co-operation and Development visited India from April 4 to 8, 2002 to discuss Germanys future economic co-operation with India and common development efforts. The significance attached by the German government to its development co-operation with India is evident from the "focal partner nation" status accorded to India under the German governments new development policy concept.
Source: "German News" Vol XLIII May 2002. Monthly magazine from the German Embassy, New Delhi