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

Please Join Our Protest Against Forced Child Labor in Uzbekistan, Monday, March 11

The Child Labor Coalition and the Cotton Campaign are seeking your help:

Stop Forced Labor, Forced Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses in Uzbekistan During the Uzbekistan Foreign Minister’s visit to Washington, DC

March 11, 2013, 12 – 1 PM EST, at the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Washington, Massachusetts Ave. near Dupont Circle (1746 Massachusetts Ave NW Washington, DC 20036)

Every year for decades, the government of Uzbekistan has forced millions of children and adults – 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. The government combines these penalties
with threats, detains and harasses Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the situation, and continues to refuse the International Labor Organization’s access to monitor the harvest. Uzbekistan is one of the largest cotton producing countries in the world, and cotton harvested there by forced labor finds its way into the U.S. apparel industry.

Modern-day slavery in the cotton fields persists as long as Uzbek citizens are denied fundamental human rights. Under the rule of long-time President Islam Karimov, torture is an enduring problem in Uzbekistan’s detention facilities, journalists and human rights defenders are imprisoned for legitimate civil society activism, and religious practice is
persecuted. Gulshan Karaeva, Uktam Pardaev and Elena Urlaeva were among the victims of harassment and arrest for attempting to document the 2012 cotton harvest.

Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov is visiting Washington, DC to seek increased support from the U.S.… Read the rest

Number of Companies Pledging to Avoid Uzbek Cotton Zooms Past 100

The Cotton Campaign recently passed an important milestone in the fight to protect children in Uzbekistan from forced child labor: more than 100 companies have signed a pledge to try to avoid purchasing Uzbek cotton. Consumers will recognize a lot of the names on the list—Levis Strauss, Fruit of the Loom, GAP, Ann Taylor, Wal-Mart—comprising many of the largest apparel companies in the world. To date, 124 companies have signed the pledge.

Each fall, the country of Uzbekistan compels hundreds of thousands of school children to leave their classrooms and perform back-breaking labor harvesting cotton. The children typically earn only pennies for their work and experience harsh, uncomfortable conditions. In many countries of the world cotton is harvested with machinery, but in Uzbekistan using school children, college students and adults forced into labor has proven to be a cheap solution to harvest needs and picking by hand results in cotton that can draw top prices. Ruled by a totalitarian dictator, Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan is the only country in the world whose government is compelling the widespread use of child labor for non-military purposes.

For years, the members of the Cotton Campaign, including the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs with the American Federation of Teachers, have applied pressure on companies that use cotton to eliminate their use of Uzbek cotton until Uzbek leaders allows the International Labour Organization to monitor the cotton harvest and until Uzbekistan eliminates exploitative child labor and forced adult labor from the harvest.

According to reports coming out of Uzbekistan during this fall’s harvest, more schools have remained open this year and the use of child labor has fallen somewhat. Apparently, Uzbekistan has allowed some younger children to focus on their studies by turning to increased forced labor of older kids in the 15- to 19-year-old range. Advocates see this as a sign that pressure is beginning to work. And having 100 companies sign the pledge to avoid Uzbek cotton sends a powerful message to Uzbekistan: you must do more to eliminate the use of forced labor and child labor and you must let the ILO monitor your next cotton harvest.

Read more

New Report Grades Apparel Companies on Efforts to Combat Slavery

News from Free2Work and Not for Sale:

We are pleased to announce the release of a report ranking over 300 apparel brands on their efforts to address child and forced labor.   Modern-day slavery, which currently affects more than 30 million people, is used throughout the production of many clothing products sold on U.S. shelves.  Apparel Industry Trends: From Farm to Factory is the first comprehensive report of its kind.

The report urges the clothing sector forward by offering best practice examples from industry leaders and by pointing out brands that are fueling modern-day slavery through their negligence.  Free2Work grades are only an indication of a company’s efforts against slavery–not of broader working conditions.  We hope this will help urge the industry forward in creating freedom and dignity, as well as help companies and consumers understand how they are connected to labor abuses within the products they produce and consume.

The report was pre-released in a presentation on Nov. 13 in Ankara, Turkey, at the United Nations General Assembly expert group meeting on “Human Trafficking & Global Supply Chains.” The meeting included corporate, government, labor union, and NGO leaders from around the globe.

In the coming weeks, we will be hosting a webinar for interested parties to learn more about this comprehensive report. Once we have settled upon an exact date and time, we will pass along the information.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to end child and forced labor in our lifetime.… Read the rest

Uzbekistan: U.S. Report Fails Child Labor Victims–Unwillingness to Impose Meaningful Consequences Allows Abuses to Continue

[The following is a press release from the Cotton Campaign regarding a letter to the State Department in which the CLC joined more than 40 groups to express disappointment about the failure to cite Uzbekistan for forced labor and child labor abuses in its cotton harvest.]

(Washington, DC, June 21, 2012) – The United States government’s decision not to cite Uzbekistan for its widespread practice of forced and child labor in the country’s cotton sector sends the wrong message to the Uzbek government, a broad coalition of groups said in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 19, 2012. The coalition called on US officials to press the Uzbek government to invite the International Labour Organization (ILO) to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest.

The letter followed the US government’s release on June 19 of its annual Global Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) report. The report fails to cite Uzbekistan as a country that does not comply with minimal standards to combat forced and child labor, or a “Tier III country,” the groups said. Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), the Uzbek government should have demonstrated that it was making “significant efforts” to eliminate forced labor to avoid a downgrade to Tier III, which would carry the threat of sanctions.

“Forced labor of adults and children is human trafficking under US law,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The failure to classify Uzbekistan properly for the fifth straight year is wholly inconsistent with the well-documented evidence of its systematic abuses. The US effectively sent a message to Uzbek authorities that enslaving children for profit in abusive conditions is cost-free.”

The coalition consists of human rights, trade union, apparel industry, retail, investor, and other nongovernmental organizations, including groups from Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities use a cotton production system that in practice relies on the use of forced labor, while consistently denying that forced labor is used and cracking down on rights activists who try to monitor it. Reports about the 2011 harvest by local monitoring groups and academic studies highlighted the coercion of children as young as 10 and adults to pick cotton and to fulfill government quotas.

The State Department report identifies the Uzbek government’s state quota system for cotton production as a root cause of the practice of forced labor. However, even though Tashkent has clearly made no progress in addressing the issue, the State Department waived the threat of sanctions, as it did last year.

Read more