Tag Archive for: Cotton


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.

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. Sounds like a fun guy, right? Sadly, Berdimuhamedov’s 12-year tenure as president has seen a wide array of   alarming human rights abuses and forcing children and adults to harvest cotton is part of a package of his egregious mistreatment of Turkmen citizens.

The Cotton Campaign is hoping that the tactics used to dramatically reduce child labor in Uzbekistan will work in Turkmenistan too. Those techniques include widespread clothing company pressure: well over 100 apparel companies pledged not to buy Uzbekistan cotton.

Already, 12 companies have pledged not to purchase Turkmen cotton, and US Customs stopped a shipment of Turkmen cotton from entering the U.S. last spring over concerns that labor abuses in their production violated U.S. trade laws.

It’s hard to get dictators to do the right thing and the Cotton Campaign has often resorted to protests to help attract their attention and the attention of others. On October 1st, NCL’s director of child labor advocacy Reid Maki, a veteran of many Cotton Campaign protests, traveled to the United Nations in Manhattan to join the campaign’s protest against the Turkman president, who was there to participate in the UN General Assembly. Twenty other participants joined the protest outside UN headquarters, chanting against child labor and holding signs that urged Turkmenistan to end labor abuses.

“I’m pretty sure we got their attention,” said Maki, who also coordinates the CLC for NCL. “A black SUV limo pulled up with plates that said, ‘Tyrkman’ – we figured it was from the Embassy of Turkmenistan and we tried to give it one of our leaflets, but it sped off when we approached.”

The protestors were also asking for the release of incarcerated journalist Gaspar Matalaev, who had reported on forced labor and child labor in Turkmenistan and has spent the last two years in jail because of it. The Cotton Campaign has helped collect over 85,000 petition signatures to free Gaspar.

Although small, the protest was deemed a success by participants. “A rare appearance by the Turkmen president at the UN afforded a great opportunity to embarrass the regime,” said Maki. “We look forward to the day when Gaspar Matalaev is released and Turkmen children and adults are no longer forced to work in cotton fields.”


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.

Read more


International Workers, Employers, Governments Call on Uzbekistan to End Forced Labor, Child Labor

Press release: June 11, 2013

The International Labour Organization supervisory body recommends that the Uzbek government to take urgent and serious action to end forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector.

(Geneva) – The Government of Uzbekistan should take urgent and significant steps to end systematic forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector, said workers, employers, and governments from around the world, during the hearing of the International Labour Organization Committee on the Application of Standards. The CAS, the tripartite supervisory body of the ILO tasked with assuring that all governments abide by international labour standards, released its conclusions from the hearing today.

“We commend the international representatives of workers, employers and governments for recommending the Uzbek government to invite a high level ILO mission to monitor the 2013 cotton harvest,” said Vasila Inoyatova, Director of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Ezgulik. “Their recommendations respond to the facts, including the deaths of Navruz Muysinov, Igor Yachkevskiy, Aziz Bakhtiyorov, and Umid during the 2012 cotton harvest.”

As highlighted by the German workers and Education International, the state system of forced child labour is serious, systematic and continuous. The Uzbek government has already mobilized children as young as age 10 as well as adults, to plough and weed cotton fields. On April 19, the deputy governor of Namangan region beat seven farmers for planting onions instead of cotton. As was the case during last fall’s cotton harvest, the forced labour of government employees this spring has again disrupted the delivery of essential public services, including health care and education. As an Indonesian worker delegate explained, state-run forced child labour is a major violation of international conventions and results in forced labour cotton products on retail shelves around the world.

During the hearing, Uzbekistan again denied that children worked in the cotton fields in 2012 and remained silent about the existence of adult forced labour. As the International Trade Union Confederation and International Organization of Employers noted, this claim lacks evidence and contradicts the facts presented by independent civil society The IOE also noted that if there were no forced labour in the cotton harvest, then there is no reason for the Uzbek government to refuse independent monitoring by the ILO.

“To demonstrate commitment, the Uzbek government must invite a high level tripartite ILO mission by August 1, in order to monitor the 2013 cotton harvest,” said Joanna Ewart-James. “Delays would result in another year of over a million children and adults forced to pick cotton.”

In a strong statement, the United States delegate stated “The United States Government remains seriously concerned about the systematic and persistent use of forced labor and the worst forms of child labor in cotton production in Uzbekistan,” adding that “we deeply regret that the Government has been resistant to accepting ILO assistance.”

“The Uzbek government needs to accept ILO monitoring that includes participation of independent civil society,” stated Brian Campbell, International Labor Rights Forum. “The participation of Uzbek civil-society organizations is the indicator of the Uzbek government’s commitment to abide by international labour standards.”


For more information, please contact:

In Uzbekistan, for Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Ezgulik, Vasila Inoyatova, +998.97.131.4872, vasila.iva@gmail.com (Uzbek and Russian)

In United States, for International Labor Rights Forum, Brian Campbell, +1.347.266.1351, brian.campbell@ilrf.org (English)

In United Kingdom, for Anti-Slavery International, Joanna Ewart-James, +44.7957.426524, j.ewart-james@antislavery.org (English and French)

In Germany, for Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Umida Niyazova, +49-17687-532684, umida.niyazova@uzbekgermanforum.org (English, Russian, Uzbek)

In France, for Association Human Rights in Central Asia, Nadejda Atayeva, +33.61.746.1963, n.atayeva@gmail.com, (Uzbek, Russian, French)



CLC Member ILRF Calls on U.S. Customs Service to Halt Imports of Forced Labor Cotton from Uzbekistan

(Washington, D.C.)A formal complaint against the importation of cotton from Uzbekistan grown and harvested with forced labor was filed today by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), a leading American human and labor rights watchdog organization. Under the Tariff Act of 1930, the U.S. Customs Service is required to deny entry to goods that arrive at U.S. ports that contain materials made with forced labor.

For decades, the government of Uzbekistan, under the dictator Islam Karimov, has forced millions of children, teachers, nurses, doctors, public sector workers 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 tortures activists seeking to monitor the situation and continues to refuse the International Labor Organization’s efforts to monitor the cotton harvest.

The complaint calls on U.S. Customs to issue an immediate detention order on all pending and future imports of cotton goods manufactured by Daewoo International Corporation, Indorama Corporation, and other companies processing cotton in Uzbekistan. Daewoo International, a South Korean-based company owned by the steel manufacturer POSCO (NYSE: PKX), and Indorama Corporation (www.indorama.com), a Singapore based multi-national that produces yarn, fabrics and organic cotton products, are two of the largest processors of Uzbek cotton.

According to U.S. import records, over 620 tons of cotton yarn and fabric has been imported into the United States from facilities in Uzbekistan since 2008. U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission data indicate at least 23 tons of cotton yarn from Uzbekistan entered the United States in February 2013 alone.

“U.S. federal law forbids the importation of goods produced using forced labor,” said Brian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs. “We expect U.S. Customs will conduct a thorough investigation into how cotton from Uzbekistan is escaping detection at U.S. ports of entry and effectively ban all future imports into the United States.”

The complaint is available online at: https://goo.gl/464aE


The International Labor Rights Forum is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. For more information, please visit www.LaborRights.org.



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.


Not for Sale


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


Indian Advocates Find Lots of Children Working in Cotton

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

[from The Hindu, 2012]

Gross violation: NCPCR members found child labourers in large numbers in Bt cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

The latest NCPCR survey report reveals large-scale child labour in Bt cotton production; asks stakeholders to prepare an action plan to eliminate it

Forced to work for 14-hours at a stretch and even carry pesticides on their back, the plight children engaged as child labour in the Bt cotton production has often gone unnoticed, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has said in its latest survey report.

To rescue these children and in an effort to curb the growing problem of child labour in Bt cotton fields in some states, the Commission in collaboration with the labour department of Andhra Pradesh, conducted a State-wide meeting with BT cotton seed companies in Hyderabad in May.

“Child labour is being engaged in large numbers in Bt cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. They are forced to work for 14 hours and even carry pesticides exposing themselves to toxins,” said Commission member Dr. Yogesh Dube who visited the area. “Plants producing Bt cotton seeds require children of low height for cross pollination. Besides children make easy and cheap labour,” he added. Read more


India’s Exploited Child Cotton Workers

By Humphrey HawksleyBBC News, Gujarat

Civil rights activist Jignesh Mevani describes the conditions endured by India’s child cotton workers

The noise was deafening and air in the factory in northern Gujarat was so thick with cotton dust it was like a snowstorm at night.

Women and girls, some no more than 10 or 11, fed machines with raw cotton picked from the nearby fields.

It is a process known as ginning – one end of a commercial supply chain that ends up as clothes and textiles in high street shops around the world. Globally, annual revenues from the industry are measured in the trillions of dollars.

Many household-name retailers concede they do not know exactly how the cotton they use is farmed and processed. Yet, for years, labour activists here have campaigned for their help.

Missing parents

“The workers’ lives are terrible,” said Jignesh Mevani, an activist who was our guide. “They are not paid the minimum wage. There are no safety precautions. There are many children.” Read more


Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton

By Cam Simpson – Dec 15, 2011

Clarisse Kambire’s nightmare rarely changes. It’s daytime. In a field of cotton plants that burst with purple and white flowers, a man in rags towers over her, a stick raised above his head. Then a voice booms, jerking Clarisse from her slumber and making her heart leap. “Get up!”

The man ordering her awake is the same one who haunts the 13-year-old girl’s sleep: Victorien Kamboule, the farmer she labors for in a West African cotton field. Before sunrise on a November morning she rises from the faded plastic mat that serves as her mattress, barely thicker than the cover of a glossy magazine, opens the metal door of her mud hut and sets her almond-shaped eyes on the first day of this season’s harvest. (Follow her journey in videos, photos and more here.)

She had been dreading it. “I’m starting to think about how he will shout at me and beat me again,” she said two days earlier. Preparing the field was even worse. Clarisse helped dig more than 500 rows with only her muscles and a hoe, substituting for the ox and the plow the farmer can’t afford. If she’s slow, Kamboule whips her with a tree branch.

Read more


Fairtrade Response to Bloomberg Article

Bloomberg article “Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton” published yesterday draws attention to the plight of “enfants confies”, foster children common across West Africa. The article highlights the story of one particular child, allegedly from a Fairtrade certified cotton farm. We take this allegation on the violation of human rights of the child very seriously and have put in place appropriate actions.

Fairtrade International first learned of the specific child labour allegation last week when we were contacted by the Bloomberg journalist Cam Simpson. This allegation immediately triggered our internal Child Protection Policy and Procedures. We developed this policy and procedure to respond to detections and/or allegations of vulnerable children engaged in unacceptable labour within Fairtrade operations. Our first and foremost priority is the safety and welfare of impacted children and their communities. Read more