Press Release: EU Parliament: Don’t Open Market to Forced Labor Cotton Campaign calls on MEPs to delay vote on Uzbek textile treaty to consider new information
For Immediate Release (Washington, DC, December 12, 2016)
(Washington, DC): The European Parliament should delay a vote on a text on a textile treaty with Uzbekistan until it examines new evidence on child and forced labor from the autumn 2016 cotton harvest, the Cotton Campaign said today. Independent monitoring found increased use of schoolchildren to pick cotton and widespread adult forced labor in Uzbekistan in 2016. The textile treaty, scheduled for a vote on December 14, would open European market to trade in Uzbek textiles. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have deferred decision on the treaty since 2011 over concerns regarding systematic forced labor of citizens to pick cotton.
“The Uzbek government has again forced more than a million Uzbek citizens, including schoolchildren, to harvest cotton for state-run industries under threat of losing their jobs or being expelled from school,” said Umida Niyazova, Director of the Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights, which conducts independent monitoring of labor and human rights in Uzbekistan. “Despite a perception among some international actors that there are positive changes in the country, evidence on the ground clearly shows that the forced labor system remains entrenched, at enormous cost to the people of Uzbekistan.”
Ratifying the textiles protocol would mean including textiles in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) concluded between Uzbekistan and the EU in 1999. The provisions laid down in the ‘Trade in goods’ title of the PCA would thus also apply to textiles. That title foresees the according of MFN status on a reciprocal basis, trade free of quantitative restrictions, the principle of free transit, trade at market-related prices.
The Cotton Campaign, a coalition of human rights organizations, trade unions, socially responsible investors and business associations united to end forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, called on MEPs to defer its vote on the textile treaty until it can examine evidence from the 2016 harvest, which concluded in November, and convene hearings with experts and witnesses. While sustained international pressure has led the Uzbek government to make some changes, particularly in limiting the systematic mobilization of children to pick cotton, forced labor remains a reality for more than a million people in Uzbekistan every year.
“This labor is coerced and there is real cost to individuals who resist it,” said Abby McGill, ILRF Director of Campaigns. “Students were expelled from schools and teachers were fired for refusing to participate. A pregnant woman even lost her child while working in the fields because officials threatened to deny her maternal benefits if she did not participate in the harvest.”
According to preliminary findings issued by the Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) on December 6, the government ordered public sector employees, including teachers and medical workers, students, people receiving public benefits, and people working for public and private enterprises, to pick cotton under threat of penalty. Common penalties included dismissal from jobs, academic difficulties and expulsion for students, and being cut off from welfare benefits or utilities. The evidence also raises serious concerns about ongoing child labor, including an increase in government mobilization of schoolchildren aged 14 and 15. Monitors also received information confirming the Uzbek Government organized coerced participation at the national level, sending directives to regional officials. More information on preliminary report findings can be found in a video released by UGF and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) last week.
“The European Parliament ought to continue to uphold high standards on human rights requirements in trade relations with third countries, said Klara Skrivankova, UK & Europe Programme Manager, Special Advisor to the Ethical Trading Initiative, Anti-Slavery International. “In particular, it should not permit that goods produced by forced labour, such as cotton from Central Asia, to be freely traded in the EU.”
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - C/O International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 Eye Street NW, suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. +1(202) 347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com