The Slave Labor Behind Uzbekistan Cotton

January 17, 2013 in CSR by Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Cotton uzbekiChances are great that at least some of the cotton in the clothes you wear is from Uzbekistan. A Central Asian country, Uzbekistan is the sixth largest producer of cotton, and the third largest exporter, according to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). For decades the Uzbeki government, under President Islam Karimov, has forced adults and children to pick cotton. The Cotton Campaign characterizes the forced labor as happening “under appalling conditions each harvest season.”

Over a million adults and children are forced to pick cotton for little or no pay. Teachers are ordered to close schools and enforce quotas in the cotton fields. Government and private business employees are sent by local authorities to pick cotton. Children are threatened with expulsion from school if they do not pick cotton. Adults are threatened with losing their jobs, pensions and child benefits. The cotton is harvested manually. The government even requires farmers to grow cotton.

There is no other forced labor quite like it: it is lead by the government, and the government is the only beneficiary. Farmers are trapped in poverty. Uzbeki citizens who bring attention to the forced labor are detained, tortured and even exiled. The cotton that is picked ends up in “brand-name retail and apparel supply chains and therefore on consumers,” the Cotton Campaign points out.

Forced labor has been used for decades to harvest cotton crops in Uzbekistan. The ILRF states on its website that the conditions in which children are forced to work are “appalling.” The children are given a “minimal amount of food, which they often have to pay for, and have little access to clean drinking water.”

Tashpolat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political analyst now living in the United States told the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, “Nowhere else in the world do they work like they do in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields.”

“There’s the constant danger that local government will arbitrarily confiscate the land we lease, without even giving a reason,” Yoldashev said. “If the authorities wanted to mechanize the work, they could do it.”

In 2011, the Swedish retailer, H&M pledged to not buy cotton in 2011 under the under the Responsible Sourcing Network, a project of As You Sow, an advocacy group. However, H&M continues to buy cotton from Daewoo International, which still sources it from Uzbekistan.

A Sum of Us petition address to H&M urges the company to “take all steps necessary to fight slavery in Uzbekistan.” If you are as appalled by the fact that the Uzbekistan government forces its people to pick cotton, then sign the petition.

Photo: Flickr user, abbeyman2002

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS