Anti-Slavery International, the London-based non-governmental organisation working to elminate all forms of slavery worldwide, brought 13,072 signatures to the European Parliament on December 6, urging that members of parliament reject legislation that would reduce tariffs on imports of cotton from Uzbekistan.
Founded in 1839, Anti-Slavery is the world's oldest international human rights organisation.
Anti-Slavery spent a year gathering the 13,072 signatures using the popular petitions site change.org and other campaign sites, and through the use of a video, "End Cotton Crimes." They persuaded pop singer Ricky Martin to endorse the effort, and also got ethical fashion bloggers and online magazines for the ethical consumer to post the link to the petition.
The campaigners hand-delivered the package of signatures to the European Parliament on December 7th. MEP Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat and supporter of anti-trafficking initiatives, invited to her office school-children who had written expressing their concern about their counterparts picking cotton in Uzbekistan.
As Anti-Slavery writes:
Shannon Harris aged 14, from Eastbourne said: “When I learnt what was going on in Uzbekistan, it was unbelievable. Students my age are supposed to be in school studying but are being forced to work in slavery picking cotton. Why is this still happening?”
The children were inspired by a lesson at school:
Neil Pittman, head of upper school at Bishop Bell, said: “After studying the UN Covention on the Rights of the Child, our pupils were shocked to hear that Uzbekistani children were forced by their government to work during the cotton harvest. The injustice of the situation was very clear to the pupils and they were concerned that cotton harvested by children may be used in the clothes they wear."
Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International’s Supply Chain Co-ordinator, said:
“International law demands immediate action to stamp out slavery and the European Union must consistently work to end this abuse. By rewarding Uzbekistan with trade preferences the EU is ignoring the reality of state-sponsored forced child labour in Uzbekistan.”