Korean currency should not be made with cotton from Uzbekistan, where state-sponsored forced labor of children and adults underpins the cotton sector, said Korean Member of Parliament Park Won Seok during a press conference on World Day Against Child Labor. Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL) and other civil-society organizations in Korea joined MEP Park to call on the Korean Minting, Security Printing & ID Card Operating Corporation (KOMSCO) to stop using Uzbek cotton in South Korean won.
The Korean activists invite concerned citizens worldwide to sign a petition to KOMSCO, asking the company to stop using cotton from Uzbekistan in Korean currency, until state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan is ended.
The Korean state-owned enterprise KOMSCO is the majority shareholder in the Global Komsco Daewoo (GKD), a cotton pulp factory in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not import any cotton. KOMSCO’s partner Daewoo International operates two additional facilities in Uzbekistan’s textile sector, Daewoo Textile Bukhara and Daewoo Textile Fergana, and accounts for over 20% of cotton processed in Uzbekistan. In 2012, after Uzbek citizens called for a global boycott of the Uzbek cotton and textile sector, the National Assembly of Korea initiated an investigation of KOMSCO. Companies, investors, business associations, trade unions and NGOs from around the world urged KOMSCO and Daewoo to meet their due diligence duties. The companies have thus far refused to take action, despite their awareness of on-going state-sponsored forced labor in the Uzbek cotton sector.
In 2013, Daewoo has issued two public statements acknowledging forced labor in the Uzbek cotton sector and the Uzbek government’s total control over the sector. In February, Daewoo stated, “To our knowledge and information, as the 90% of the harvested cotton are produced by not the machine but the hand-picking, the Uzbek government had taken advantage of the child labor during the harvest season, from September to November,” and “Uzbek children under 15 years old have been hardly forced and however, teenagers over 15 years old have seemed partially forced, as far as we heard. In the countryside where is hardly affected by the government, there has been partially the forced child labor.” In June, Daewoo added “it is very difficult for private companies like Daewoo Textiles to have any direct influence or impact on Uzbekistan government’s policies,” and did not receive approval from the Uzbek government for independent monitoring of their cotton supply chain in Uzbekistan.
Daewoo and KOMSCO continue processing cotton in Uzbekistan, and the Ubzek authorities continue to forced farmers to produce annual cotton quotas and children and adults to work in the cotton fields.
In 2012, the provincial government offices (khokimiyats) coercively mobilized children ages 15 to 17 and adults to meet the annual harvest quotas. While there was not the nationwide shut-down of primary schools and mass mobilization of children under age 15 characteristic of previous harvests, these younger children were sporadically forced to pick cotton. Children forced to pick cotton worked excessive hours, conducting arduous physical work in hazardous conditions and under threat of punishment, including expulsion from school. Government employees – including teachers, doctors, nurses, and soldiers – and private business employees were forced to pick cotton under threat of dismissal from work, the loss of salary, pensions and welfare benefits. Authorities extracted fines from those who failed to meet their cotton quotas. The scale of forced labour of government employees disrupted the delivery of essential public services such as health care and education. As in years past, authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain independent Uzbek civil society activists who attempted to monitor forced labor in the cotton fields.
Thus far in 2013, the government, once again, has mobilized children as young as 10-years-old and adults to plow and weed cotton fields. Coercive tactics to ensure that farmers meet state-established cotton production quotas also continue. On April 19, the deputy governor of Namangan region beat seven farmers for planting onions instead of cotton.
Fully aware of forced labor in their Uzbek cotton supply chains and claiming inability to influence the Uzbek government to end the practice, Daewoo and KOMSCO have a responsibility to remediate the situation by ceasing their purchases of Uzbek cotton. Click here to sign the petition to KOMSCO.