Eight leaders from business, labor, and human rights organizations met with Ambassador Ilhom Nematov, Uzbekistan's envoy to the U.S., on March 11 to express their concerns about the continued use of forced child labor in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan.
The group included representatives from the National Retail Federation and the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Labor-
Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Calvert Asset Management, Global Works Foundation, the International Labor Rights Forum, and Open Society Foundations.
The main message the American campaigners wanted to deliver to the Uzbek ambassador was that it was time for Tashkent to allow the International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts to come into Uzbekistan to examine conditions there. Apparel brands cannot buy Uzbek cotton until they can obtain assurances that child labor is not used in the harvest.
In 2009, Uzbekistan signed the relevant ILO conventions prohibiting the use of the worst forms of child labor and pledged to eliminate the practice. Numerous reports from local human rights groups and international agencies during the last cotton season, however, indicate that the practice continues unabated.
The group pointed out that for some years, they have asked Uzbekistan to admit the ILO mission and it has refused. Uzbekistan will now be reviewed at the June meeting of the International Labour Conference, the annual ILO meeting at which each member state is represented by a delegation of two government officials, an employer, a worker, and their advisers.
The group then followed up March 25 with a letter to the Uzbek ambassador reiterating the call for cooperation with the ILO:
As we noted during the meeting, we believe that the best way forward is for Uzbekistan to commit as soon as possible to receive a tripartite ILO mission to observe the upcoming 2011 harvest season. Such a mission would provide an impartial analysis of the scope of the problem and constructive suggestions for cooperation in addressing it. By agreeing now to receive a mission, your government would avoid what will undoubtedly be significant criticism at this spring’s International Labor Conference, pursuant to its refusal to accept last year’s recommendation by the ILO Committee of Experts that Uzbekistan host an ILO mission to observe the 2010 harvest. Moreover, your government’s agreement to host an ILO mission could also be seen as a willingness to move forward on an important component of the related issue of trafficking in persons.
The letter was signed by Bama Athreya, Executive Director, Global Works Foundation; Erik Autor, Vice President, International Trade Counsel, National Retail Federation, Brian Campbell, Director of Policy, International Labor Rights Forum, Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President, Calvert Asset Management, Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations, Pat Keefer, Deputy Director, International Affairs, American Federation of Teachers, Steve Lamar, Executive Vice President, American Apparel & Footwear Association.