Efforts underway to end forced labour in Uzbekistan cotton industry


The government of Uzbekistan, represented by Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov and the Cotton Campaign met in Washington last week to discuss reform efforts to end forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest.

The Uzbek delegation presented its roadmap to combat forced labour, which seeks to address the key concerns raised by the Cotton Campaign in its dialogue with the government.

“The Cotton Campaign welcomes the Uzbek government’s commitment to ending the decades-long practice of forced labour as we focus on the urgent steps necessary during this pivotal time,” said Bennett Freeman, co-founder of the Cotton Campaign.

The meeting builds on more than a year and a half of engagement between the Cotton Campaign and the government of Uzbekistan. In June, at the request of the Uzbek government, the Cotton Campaign delivered a Roadmap of Reforms outlining both immediate- and long-term reforms needed.

The Cotton Campaign’s Roadmap sets forth three core objectives essential to ending forced labour and ensuring the sustainability of reforms, as well as key actions and outcomes for each: End Systemic Forced Labour, Enact Structural Reforms, and Empower Civil Society.

The Cotton Campaign emphasized in the meeting last week that these three objectives are complementary and mutually reinforcing, and raised concerns about ongoing cases of persecution of independent activists, journalists, and labour monitors.

Participants also discussed the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, signed by 312 leading brands and retailers not to source cotton from Uzbekistan until forced labour is ended.

“Our members have ethical and legal obligations not to have any forced labour anywhere in their supply chains and support the pledge as an incentive to reform.” said Nate Herman, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, who joined the discussions with the Uzbek government.

“We look forward to the opportunity to assess the reform efforts and we hope to gain assurance that progress is irreversible as brands consider new opportunities in Uzbekistan,” said Julie Hughes, President of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, who also participated in the meeting.

Brand associations at the meeting also conveyed that once the pledge is lifted, they will be looking for ongoing monitoring, assurances, and continuous improvement to abide by internationally-accepted standards to address human rights, labour, and environmental risks.

The cotton harvest is currently underway in Uzbekistan. Amidst significant progress, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, a Cotton Campaign partner, and independent activists have continued to document cases of state-organized forced labour, including government decrees mobilizing certain categories of workers in several regions.

The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of human rights, labour, responsible investor, and business organizations dedicated to eradicating child and forced labour in cotton production. (Source: laborrights.org)