Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Anti-Slavery International targets European Parliament through Cotton Crimes campaign

Anti-Slavery International has recently relaunched their Cotton Crimes campaign with a new video.

It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)

Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.

Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.

Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:

LEARN // Social Alterations / A Closer Look / Uzbekistan

Fashion Supply Chain: Special Focus // Uzbekistan + Bangladesh

As a returning supporting sponsor for ECO Fashion Week—Vancouver, we once again contributed an educational/informational card to the SWAG (gift) bags. For the September event, our card focused on the life-cycle of a regular T-shirt, taking the learner on a contextual journey through nine countries: Uzbekistan, Dubai, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Canada (Vancouver), USA (New York), Japan, and Tanzania. Information on this journey is available in [Lesson 2] Connect // Key Players. For this past event, we centered our attention on providing ‘fast facts’ for two special focus touch points: Uzbekistan and Bangladesh. If you would like information on how to deliver these educational/informational cards in your classroom or business, please contact us for templates.

[Images below depict the front, inside and back of the card, printed on recycled hemp]

Front of card:

Fashion Supply Chain: Special Focus // Uzbekistan + Bangladesh 

Inside of card:


Back of card:

Update III: Uzbekistan’s Cotton Trail

Yet another update on forced and child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.

The Cotton Campaign continues to report on the flagrant abuse of human rights by the Uzbek government.  There have been some unfortunate incidents linked to this year’s harvest (to read more about them click below) including:

Another post gives a quick overview of the findings in the Veritas  preliminary report saying that:

The Cotton Campaign, through, has posted a list of representatives that were present at the Tashkent Cotton Fair.  According to the Cotton Campaign, “contracts were signed for over 600,000 tons of this year’s crop alone, and the list of attendees was the largest ever.”

Take a look at the list and see if you recognize any names. Please let us know who they are and which companies they service.  This is a big step in the ability to trace this harvest.

Finally, in case some are still wondering what the big deal is, here are some videos showing what life is like for the cotton labourers.

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 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, & Independent World Report.

Update: Forced Labour in Uzbekistan

A young boy carrying cotton. From (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov).

A young boy carrying cotton. From (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov).

Uzbekistan is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world.  Unfortunately, this cotton comes at a high price.  Thanks to a number of campaigns, it is no secret that Uzbekistan uses forced labour especially child labour during the harvesting seasons.  When it’s time to harvest the cotton, the government shuts down schools and public offices while people are forced into the fields to pick cotton, often for long hours with no protective gear, inadequate food and water.  According to some accounts, children as young as seven are forced into the fields.  Those who do not meet quotas are denied access to utilities and government services such as electricity, gas or water.  This large scale mobilization of labour benefits a small number of large landowners and political elites who stand to make a large profit from the cotton.  This concentration of wealth was further condensed following the fall 2008 harvest when the government forcibly confiscated farmland.  Corruption obviously plays a large role in this system as The Economist (June 11th, 2009) has pointed out:

“Ostensibly to rationalise agricultural production, Mr Karimov decreed in October that landholdings should be consolidated. This gave local governors—the hakims, who often rule with an iron fist—a pretext to seize land and pass it on to cronies or those wealthy enough to offer bribes. In the past decade many farmers had signed 49-year leases, as Soviet-era collective farms were dismantled.”

So, what is being done to improve this situation?  There has been a large scale mobilization to boycott Uzbek cotton.  Over the past year, a number of large companies have heeded the call including Walmart, The Gap, Tesco, C&A, Levis Strauss, Marks & Spencer and Continental Clothing.  In response, the Uzbek government decreed the prohibition of child labour and has ratified ILO conventions regarding child labour and minimum working age (conventions 182 & 138).  Regardless, the forced labour continues.  While the government denies the existence of child labour, reports from Uzbekistan tell a different story.  This has spurred a group of institutional investors to write a letter to the ILO’s Director General urging him to take action on the matter.  In this letter they write:

“With the fall 2009 cotton harvest fast approaching, we have urged the GOU [Government of Uzbekistan] to invite the ILO to deploy an initial expert observer and assessment mission immediately as a prelude to long-term engagement by the ILO,  including monitoring on a multi-year basis.  We understand that there have been consultations between the Uzbek government and the ILO in March and again in May.  We urge the ILO to be prepared to accept such an invitation if it is forthcoming, provided that it is coupled with such a public acknowledgment of the problem and a commitment to work with the ILO on its terms—not only to implement the conventions but to curtail forced child labor in the cotton sector beginning immediately.

The Cotton Campaign blog is a great resource on the Uzbek cotton industry and actions taken to end forced labour including an excellent FAQ section.  Other resources include the International Labor Rights Forum which has a page dedicated to what you can do.

Uzbekistan is not the only place where this happens, but this campaign is gaining ground.  If this story has a happy ending, perhaps it will be a message to the rest of the countries engaging in these activities that forced labour is not acceptable.