Seven in 10 child laborers around the world work in agriculture and cotton is a crop that children sometimes help harvest. In Uzbekistan, state-sponsored child labor occurs as school children are forced to leave school and help harvest cotton.

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

 

 

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.

Like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan is led by an autocrat—a dictator named Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who, when he’s not ruling Turkmenistan with an iron fist, performs as a DJ and has made rap videos with his grandson.… Read the rest

Film Review: The True Cost — Film Explores the Hidden Price of Cheap Clothes

THE TRUE COST

Released 2015 | Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements and disturbing images)

Written and directed by Andrew Morgan | Produced by Michael Ross | 92 minutes

Review by Sharon L. Fawcett

One in six people on the planet work in the global fashion supply chain, making fashion the most labor-dependent industry on earth. “The True Cost”—a breathtaking and heartbreaking documentary—reveals how consumer fashion choices impact these workers, the rest of us, and our world.

Eighty billion garments are purchased each year globally—400 percent more than two decades ago. The industry that once had two fashion seasons annually now has 52 as retailers peddle new product weekly, supplying shoppers with an endless fix of inexpensive clothing.

What is the consequence of this fashion obsession—the true cost of “fast fashion?” According to the documentary, it is the suicides of hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers unable to escape debts to biotechnology and agrochemical companies, the decimation of local garment industries in low-income countries swamped by donations of cast-off clothing, and the toll taken on the earth’s ecosystems as every step in a garment’s life threatens them.

The-True-CostThe enormous quantities of chemicals and natural resources used to produce the raw material for clothing (such as cotton and leather), manufacture the product, and ship goods worldwide, have made the fashion industry the second most polluting industry on earth, second only to the fossil fuel industry. They have also led to high rates of disease and disability among people exposed to this pollution—people who often cannot afford medical treatment.… Read the rest

What Will 2014 Hold for Those Trying to Reduce Child Labor and Forced Labor in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Harvest?

For several years, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which the National Consumers League co-chairs with the American Federation of Teachers, has worked closely with the Cotton Campaign to reduce child labor and forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest.

Uzbekistan, run by totalitarian dictator Islam Karimov is the only country in the world where the central government has recently played a major role in causing large-scale forced child labor.  For many years, Uzbekistan’s leaders emptied schools and literally forced school children—sometimes very small children—to harvest cotton, a grueling, painful, sometimes dangerous job. The country is one of the largest cotton producers in the world, and Uzbek cotton sometimes finds its way into the U.S. apparel industry, despite a pledge by more than 130 apparel companies that they will not knowingly use Uzbek cotton in their garments.

For years, Uzbek children worked beside similarly conscripted college students and older adults for four to eight weeks at a time, missing much-needed school in the process. The workers were paid so little that their forced labors should be considered a form of temporary slavery. Those who refused were expelled from school, fired from their jobs, denied public benefits, or worse. Some harvesters have reported being beaten because they did not meet their cotton quota.  The forced labor of children and adults did not enrich struggling local farmers, but benefited the country’s ruling elite.

Despite aggressive advocacy by the Cotton Campaign, Karimov had intractably refused to ease the use of child labor and forced labor. Recently, however, the situation in Uzbekistan has shown signs of changing.

Advocacy by the Cotton Campaign led to a very surprising success in last summer, when the US State Department issued its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) country-by-country report and it included a downgrade of Uzbekistan to the lowest tier ranking, signaling that the Uzbek government was simply not doing enough to reduce forced labor and the worst forms of child labor in the country.

Although the advocacy community had worked hard and long to bring about this downgrade—and it was completely deserved—it was still something of a pleasant surprise. The US government has many strategic concerns in Uzbekistan related to supply routes for the war in Afghanistan, and it was assumed that the State Department would not be willing to issue the deserved downgrade for fear of alienating Uzbek leaders. Fortunately, the State Department honored the intent of the TIP report and in so doing, applied additional pressure to the Uzbek government.

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The CLC’s and Cotton Campaign’s Protest of the Use of Forced Child Labor and Adult Labor in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Fields

 

When you are a child labor activist, you spend a surprising amount of time sitting at your desk writing emails and blogs or in meetings with federal officials and others concerned about child labor. Opportunities for street activism are not common, but earlier this month, the members of the Child Labor Coalition and the Cotton Campaign hit the streets for a protest (video) in Washington, D.C. to send the government of Uzbekistan a message: stop the forced labor of a million-plus children and adults in your annual cotton harvest.

Every year, Uzbekistan’s ruling elite forces children and adults – students, teachers, nurses, doctors, public servants and private sector employees  –  to pick cotton under appalling conditions. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, denied public benefits, or worse. Some harvesters have reported being beaten because they did not meet their cotton quota.

Uzbekistan’s government is unique in its complicity in bringing out about widespread forced labor. The country is one of the largest cotton producers in the world, and Uzbek cotton sometimes finds its way into the U.S. apparel industry. More than 130 apparel companies have signed a pledge that they will not knowingly use Uzbek cotton in their garments.

Despite this widespread concern in the apparel industry and intensifying scrutiny from non-government organizations all over the world, the regime, led by dictator Islam Karimov, has steadfastly refused to abandon forced labor in the country’s cotton fields. Still, persistent pressure from activists may have altered the harvest a little. This year for the first time, fewer schools with young students were closed and fewer young students were compelled to harvest cotton. However, an even greater number of teens and young adults were forced to go to the fields and work for pennies an hour under conditions that are often very difficult.

It’s not always easy to get the attention of one of the world’s most brutal dictators, but that’s what the advocacy community did during New York City’s Fashion Week in September 2011, when several CLC members and the Cotton Advocacy Network successfully pressured event organizers into ousting Uzbekistan’s Gulnara Karimova from the prestigious fashion show. A designer and, at the time, an Uzbek diplomat, Gulnara is the daughter of Uzbekistan’s brutal leader Islam Karimov. Gulnara’s fashion line was the perfect vehicle for highlighting the abuses of her father’s regime because cotton is a common component in many clothing items. Thanks to our protest, Gulnara was forced to move her fashion show to a private restaurant where attendees and the media were met with our chants and picketing.

Flash forward 16 months and the Cotton Campaign learned that Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov was about to visit Washington, DC to seek increased support from the U.S. government for Uzbekistan. Rumor has it that Uzbekistan wants the U.S. to leave behind hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment when the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan.

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