The prime minister of Uzbekistan has demanded an abundant cotton harvest and threatening jail time for those who fail to produce state quotas, once again setting the tone for desperate local administrators and farmers to resort to forced child labour to accommodate the pressure from Tashkent.
Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, met with regional representatives on June 19 and threatened to punish local administrators if their farmers didn’t achieve cotton production targets for the year, uznews.net reported.
This is exactly the kind of threatening statement Mirziyoyev has made in the past, creating a coercive climate where farmers and local governments in charge of meeting quotas felt they had no choice but to press school-children into service.
The independent Uzbek news site uznews.net interviewed a source who requested anonymity that described the meetings held with ministers, regional, district and town government, heads of regional interior ministries or police, prosecutors, and business and organization leaders.
Mirziyoyev pointed out that several districts and regions were in danger of producing below their grain targets this year. He asked the country’s chief prosecutor to identify and punish those responsible.
Almost all the law-enforcement agencies represented at the meeting had drawn up lists of hundreds of farmers across the country “guilty” of below target grain production. The degree to which each was responsible for this will be set out in individual assessments.
Two districts were singled out for reprimands: Kasan District in Kashkadarya Region and the Kasansaisk district of Namangansk Region, which failed to meet the state plan for the year, uznews.net reported. Reports of forced child labour were received from a number of districts of Kashkadarya last year.
With prices rising to $2.00/lb. for cotton on world markets, Uzbekistan will feel even more under pressure to produce a higher yield. The prime minister urged that quotas be met by the onset of autumn.
Farmers are not expected to benefit from these higher prices, however. One farmer told uznews.net that the price fetched for one ton of cotton was only 600,000 soums, or $348 at the official exchange rate and $241.90 at the black-market rate).
Change.org readers have once again succeeded with another petition, encouraging a major clothing brand to publicly oppose Uzbekistan's use of forced child labour in its own cotton, the International Labor Rights Forum reports.
A statement released on July 19 by Carter's (which also owns Osh Kosh B'Gosh), notes that "because of the systemic, government-sanctioned use of forced child labor in the harvesting of cotton in Uzbekistan, Carter's prohibits the use of any cotton from Uzbekistan in our products."
The full statement is as follows:
Carter's takes very seriously its social responsibility to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld throughout our supply chain. While we recognize and respect the variety of cultural and legal environments in which our vendors operate, there are some standards, such as child and forced labor, on which Carter's will not compromise. To do business with us, our vendors must adhere to our Social Responsibility Policy, notwithstanding any local custom or law.
Because of the systemic, government-sanctioned use of forced child labor in the harvesting of cotton in Uzbekistan, Carter's prohibits the use of any cotton from Uzbekistan in our products. Historically, we advised our vendors of our prohibition against the use of Uzbek cotton and have required that they certify such non-use. Going forward, we are taking steps to go more deeply into our supply chain to better ensure compliance.
Additionally, in an effort to persuade the government of Uzbekistan to end the practice of forced child labor, we have partnered with other international stakeholders and signed the Uzbekistan Cotton Pledge created by the Responsible Sourcing Network. We are hopeful this broad coalition can help end the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan.
Carter's will continue to prohibit the use of Uzbek cotton in our supply chain until the government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child labor and allows the independent verification by the International Labor Organization.
The change.org petition reached 845 signatures in about a month.
The British House of Lords debated corporate governance this week, mentioning the issue of forced child labour in Uzbekistan in the cotton industry and a corporate pledge to oppose the practice .
Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) has created a pledge to be signed by US and European companies and/or brands and retailers to publicly state a collective firm opposition against the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan cotton.
The company pledge initiative was noted in a July 5 debate on corporate Anti-Slavery International reported. The House of Lords is the upper house of the parliament of the United Kingdom.
The debate highlights many of the crucial issues facing other legislatures around the world as they struggle to devise ways for corporations to become more ethical and accountable to universal human rights standards yet avoid excessive government regulation at a time when businesses are trying to create jobs in a global recession. Members of parliament are gaining a growing awareness of the need to better reporting on corporate practices and compliance with labor rights.
Baroness Young of Hornsey is among those taking the lead in the House of Lords on corporate accountability. As an arts consultant, she has worked with a number of cultural associations and museums. Currently, she is in the process of setting up an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ethical Fashion. She has worked with a number of NGOs concerned with ethical and sustainable fashion, including Made-By, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Cotton Made in Africa, and is also a patron Anti-Slavery International.
As Baroness Young noted:
Many of us balk at the idea of introducing more legislation and complex regulation, especially when some businesses are taking the initiative. For example, the Responsible Sourcing Network has created a pledge for US and European companies publicly to state their opposition to the use of forced child labour in the harvesting of Uzbeki cotton and to refuse to use it in their products. There must also be firm action from the EU, and from the Governments and importers in those countries that trade with Uzbekistan.
A necessary first step, such a pledge should ultimately be institutionalized:
Self-regulation and voluntary measures on their own are not always enough to secure the necessary support for the people and environments that are most vulnerable to exploitation. Reacting to stakeholder demands for greater transparency and responsibility, Governments in Europe and the US are legislating on corporate governance and accountability. In 2008, Denmark adopted an amendment to the Danish Financial Statements Act requiring large businesses and listed and state-owned companies to account in their annual reports for their work on CSR. Spain has made a similar move with the Sustainable Economy Act, which will come into force in March 2011.
The Company Pledge against Forced Child Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton states as follows:
We, the undersigned companies are working to ensure that forced child labor does not find its way into our products. We are aware of reports documenting the systemic use of forced child labor in the harvest of cotton in Uzbekistan. We are collaborating with a multi-stakeholder coalition to raise awareness of this very serious concern, and press for its elimination.
As a signatory to this pledge, we are stating our firm opposition to the use of forced child labor in the harvest of Uzbek cotton. We commit to not knowingly source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child labor in its cotton sector. Until the elimination of this practice is independently verified by the International Labour Organisation, we will maintain this pledge.
After more than 360 people contacted The Children's Place about its policies related to forced child labor in cotton from Uzbekistan, the company has confirmed that it instructs its suppliers not to use Uzbek cotton, joining scores of other companies who have made similar commitments, the International Labor Rights Forum reports.
Jane Singer, Vice President of Investor and Media Relations at The Children's Place commented:
The Children's Place commends the efforts to end forced child labor in Uzbekistan and will continue to do everything we can to support these efforts.
The International Labor Rights Forums has started a new petition to the clothing company Carter's to get another brand to focus on removal of Uzbek cotton from their supply chain, as it is produced by forced child labor:
Carter’s has a policy against using child and forced labor, but it has not publicly addressed the unique state-sponsored practice of forced child labor in Uzbekistan nor has it provided any information about how it ensures that its suppliers do not use Uzbek cotton tainted by these egregious human rights abuses.
Your signature works! In the past, campaigns organized by the ILRF were effective in getting Abercrombie & Fitch, Gymborree and the Children's Place to announce policies prohibitng the use of Uzbek cotton.
Add your signature now to send a message to Carter's to uphold international labor rights!