Update II: Forced Labour in Uzbekistan

 

Children working the cotton fields this year in Uzbekistan.
Children working the cotton fields this year in Uzbekistan.

In August, SA posted an update on Uzbekistan’s forced and child labour in the Cotton sector. SA continues to follow the story and unfortunately, matters have continued to decline.  As expected, the Uzbek government is once again relying on forced and child labour during this year’s harvest season.  The Cotton Campaign (through Ferghana.ru) reports that 8 out of 12 provinces have kicked off a mass mobilization into the cotton fields.  It is quite disappointing to learn that this practice continues in Uzbekistan despite government guarantees that child labour is banned.  Perhaps the trouble is that there continues to be a market for Uzbek cotton regardless of the way it is harvested.  We urge you to head over to Cotton Campaign and sign the petition against Child Labour in Uzbekistan.

The Cotton Campaign also points to an Independent World Report article on this issue that points out that Unicef, which has a significant presence in Uzbekistan, is not addressing this situation.  The article also targets two major retailers, H&M and Inditex (Zara and Bershka), that are both sourcing some of their garments from suppliers in Bangladesh which in turn source some of their cotton from Uzbekistan.  One of the excuses used by some brands is that it’s difficult to trace the source of a garment’s cotton.  The article dismissed this excuse with a quote from Juliette Williams from the Environmental Justice Foundation:

“Identifying the source of cotton used by major brands and all the steps along the supply chain is possible. It can be done and has been done. No one thinks that tracing cotton is simple. But, it is certainly not impossible. Look at companies like Tesco and Wal-Mart, which have made a public commitment to avoid Uzbek cotton. The fact that cotton at its various stages of production and processing is traded internationally is important, as there is always paperwork that enables transit through customs. In short, we know that at every stage somebody knows where the cotton is coming from. Companies need to spend some effort, ask the right questions and let their suppliers know what is required, or, in the case of Uzbek cotton, what they want to avoid. They do it for quality reasons, why not for ethical reasons too?”

We would like to know more about the traceability issue.  Is it really as difficult as some claim?  What are the factors that are preventing some brands from moving forward on this?  We would like to hear from you.  Please help us learn about this and leave a comment below or contact us.

Special thanks to Cassandra Cavanaugh from Cotton Campaign who let us know that Kohl’s has now joined the boycott.

Source: Cotton Campaign, Ferghana.ru & Independent World Report.

Nadira Lamrad

Nadira is the co-founder of Social Alterations. She is currently completing her final year as a PhD Candidate at City University of Hong Kong.

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