Viewpoint

Child labor, Forced Labor, and Cotton and How They All Converged at the UN October 1st

CLC’s Reid Maki (on the left) joins Turkman Cotton protestors, including the Cotton Campaign’s, Kirill Boychenko (right).

Consumers love cotton. It’s soft, comfortable and natural. But cotton has a dark side: child labor and forced labor is often used to produce it.

Eighteen countries use child labor to produce cotton and nine use forced labor. Eight countries use both child labor and forced labor in its production. These numbers make cotton an unusually exploitative crop, spreading human misery.

Through its membership in the Cotton Campaign, the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL co-chairs, have fought for many years to reduce child labor and forced labor in cotton from Uzbekistan—a top eight producer of the crop. The country’s ruling elites compelled school children, teachers, and civil servants to go out into the fields and harvest the crop for six or more weeks each year with little pay.

Over the last decade, the Cotton Campaign has been remarkably successful, bringing about an end to systematic child labor in Uzbek cotton fields and allowing children to focus on their education. “It’s one of the most important and dramatic successes of the last decade when it comes to reducing child labor,” said Sally Greenberg, the chair of the CLC.

The Cotton Campaign continues to work on reducing forced labor in Uzbekistan but has also recently decided to expand the campaign to reduce both child labor and forced labor in Turkmenistan, which neighbors Uzbekistan.

The protest lasted for about two hours and organizers felt sure that it got the attention of the Turkman government.

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