Issue Summary

Since 2009, reports have suggested that the Uzbekistan cotton industry utilizes forced and child labor in the cotton fields. In October 2011, the European Union Parliament blocked a textile trade deal with Uzbekistan because of the country’s continued use of forced child labor in the cotton industry. The textile deal would have lowered the tariffs on EU imports of Uzbek cotton, which currently represent ¼ of Uzbekistan’s exports.

Following continued advocacy efforts by the global industry, including the United States Fashion Industry Association (formerly USA-ITA), on June 19, 2013, the U.S. Department of State finally downgraded Uzbekistan to Tier III in the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2013, which indicates that a government is not making significant efforts to combat human trafficking and opens up the possibility of sanctions. The report notes that the country is “a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking.” Regarding the use of forced and child labor in the cotton sector, the report says:       

“Internal labor trafficking remains prevalent during the annual cotton harvest, in which children and adults are victims of government-organized forced labor. There were reports that working conditions in some fields during the cotton harvest included verbal and physical abuse and lack of freedom of movement. According to a variety of sources, the Government of Uzbekistan enforced a decree resulting in a sweeping reduction of the number of children under 15 years of age in the 2012 cotton harvest, but the government continued to subject older children and adult laborers to forced labor in that harvest. Some reports contend that the numbers of older children and adults subjected to forced labor in the harvest were higher than in previous years in several of Uzbekistan’s regions. Some activists allege that children were forced to weed cotton fields in the spring of 2012.”

The report recommends that Uzbekistan take a number of actions, including allowing an international organization such as the ILO to conduct an independent assessment during the annual cotton harvest.

On July 15, 2013, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the Cotton Campaign released a report titled, “A Systemic Problem: State-Sponsored Forced Labour in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Sector Continues in 2012.” The report “presents evidence gathered by human rights defenders in Uzbekistan on their government’s system of forced labor during the 2012 cotton production cycle” and also serves as a “call to action to governments and companies to use their leverage to urge the Government of Uzbekistan to end forced labor in its cotton sector.” 

 

USFIA Position

The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) and many of our member companies have been actively involved in bringing the issue to the attention of the Obama Administration, particularly by urging the U.S. Department of State to bring up the issue in meetings with Uzbek government officials and work toward ending child labor in Uzbekistan. USFIA is grateful that the U.S. Department of State downgraded Uzbekistan in the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2013, which will hopefully push the Uzbek government to finally take action.

 

Advocacy

USFIA and member companies have joined the Cotton Campaign, the Global Works Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations in sending letters to the Obama Administration, urging them to bring up the issue in meetings with Uzbek government officials. 

On June 19, 2012, USFIA (formerly USA-ITA) joined the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of industry associations and human rights groups, in sending another letter to Secretary Clinton expressing concern that the U.S. failed to downgrade Uzbekistan for its widespread use of forced and child labor in the cotton industry in the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2012. The letter also called on the U.S. government to urge the Uzbek government to immediately invite the ILO to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest. On July 6, 2012, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons responded to the coalition. “We have repeatedly made it clear that our bilateral relationship cannot reach its full potential unless Uzbekistan demonstrates increased efforts to protect the rights of all of its citizens, including addressing forced labor,” wrote the Ambassador. “We will continue to urge the government to cooperate with the ILO and engage Uzbekistan’s authorities, as well as civil society, to bring about real change, and will sustain our efforts to encourage this outcome in a constructive and effective way.” 

On March 12, 2013, USFIA joined industry associations in sending a letter to Abdulaziz Komilov, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging the Uzbek government to invite the high-level ILO tripartite observation mission to conduct unfettered monitoring during the cotton harvest and take immediate and effective time-bound measures to eradicate forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector. The letter was sent during Mr. Komilov’s visit to Washington, D.C.

On April 16, 2013, USFIA (formerly USA-ITA) joined a Cotton Campaign letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Department of State to place Uzbekistan in Tier III in Trafficking in Persons Report for 2013 unless the Uzbek government invites a high-level, tripartite ILO observer mission to monitor this fall’s cotton harvest. Tier III indicates that a government is not making significant efforts to combat human trafficking and opens up the possibility of sanctions. 

Previous advocacy efforts are available below.