In view of the annual International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent to conclude today, international apparelbrands and retailers are taking action to prevent Uzbek cotton that has been harvested using child labor or forced labor from entering their supply chains. Tesco, the world's second largest retailer, is the latest multinational retailer to sign the Cotton Pledge by the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN). The California-based organisation is dedicated to ending human rights abuses and forced labor associated with the raw materials found in everyday products.
“Tesco was one of the first retailers to ban the use of Uzbek cotton in the supply chain in 2007, and we are now very proud to be a signatory to the Cotton Pledge,” said Giles Bolton, Tesco's responsible sourcing director. “Eliminating cotton picked with forced labor is a critical step in the responsible sourcing process, and this, as well as eradicating other human rights abuses buried deep in global supply chains requires concerted and coordinated efforts.”
Though the markets for Uzbek cotton sourced with surch labor are diminishing as brands and consumers are becoming more aware of these kind of human rights violations globally, still over four million Uzbek citizens are forced every year to pick cotton under threat of penalty.
Among those forced to toil on the cotton fields are easily accessible public servants like nurses, civil servants and teachers who are made to leave their workplaces once the cotton harvest starts under threat of hefty fines. “I have worked as a teacher for only one year, but I regretted I chose this position already a thousand times,” stated one such Uzbek teacher in a letter to Ozodlik radio station, referring to being forced to pick cotton every year.
Due to the pressure on the Uzbek government by the international community and global apparel brands and retailers in particular and five years of coordinated advocacy, some success has been achieved with children between the ages of 7 to 15 being almost completely absent from the fields.
However, even though the youngest children no longer have to work in the fields, a larger number of older students and adults have been forced to take their place. Fortunately, a growing number of retailers does not want to have any part in supporting this repressive system.
“I applaud Tesco and the other retailers and brands for maintaining their commitments to avoid cotton from Uzbekistan,” stated RSN's director Patricia Jurewicz. “Having the largest retailers in the world standing united shows that they are committed to doing their part to end forced labor, both of children and adults.”
Till date, 153 apparel brands and retailers have signed RSN's Cotton Pledge, which opposes the use of child and forced labor in the harvest of Uzbek cotton, among them Adidas, Asda, C&A, Carrefour, Disney, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Kering, Li & Fung and Nike.