Berlin, January 16, 2013 - Human Rights Groups Launch Video Campaign Against Forced and Child Labor in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Industry
Today, human rights groups launch a video campaign: the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and INKOTA-netzwerk urge consumers and retailers to take action to make sure their clothes are not tainted with modern-day slavery, and ask them to call upon the German government to take all the necessary measures to push for an end of the widespread forced labor orchestrated by the Uzbek government.
ECCHR and INKOTA will present the short film “Cotton Dreams”, an ecofilm sustainable film production. The film highlights how consumers in Europe are likely to benefit, without their knowledge, from the widespread forced labor going on in Uzbekistan's cotton industry. The film launch will be followed by a panel discussion together with Umida Niyazova (Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights) and Claudia Kersten (Global Organic Textile Standard) at the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin on the issue of responsible sourcing of cotton.
Every year in Uzbekistan, one of the most repressive regimes left on the planet, over a million children and adults are forced by their government to pick cotton by hand in harsh conditions. Children are kept out of schools for weeks. In 2012, the government of Uzbekistan forced about one out of every six government employees to pick cotton, including teachers, doctors, nurses, members of the military, ministry offices and others. Among teachers, the percentage forced to work in the fields soared to 60%. Forced workers are threatened with fines and loss of employment, pensions and child benefits if they refuse to work. Profits from Uzbek cotton are controlled by elites close to the government and the Uzbek farmers and people see none of the benefit.
A lot of the cotton harvested in Uzbekistan ends up in Europe, including in Germany, both directly and through the Asian market. Consumers therefore must expect that they use or wear materials that are a direct result of modern-day slavery.
A momentum is growing in Germany for human rights to be prioritized in its relationship with Uzbekistan. In October 2012, the German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights, Markus Löning, of Uzbek cotton until state-sponsored forced labor of children and adults is eradicated. This call should be actively followed up by other German government actors with concrete measures. Germany should actively support the efforts of the UN International Labour Organization to fully eradicate forced labor in the Uzbek cotton fields and should support an investigation of trade preferences currently awarded to Uzbekistan by the European Union.