I could hardly believe this story that Eurasianet broke back in September of last year, about Sting's plan to give a concert for the Uzbek elite at the behest of Gulnora Karimova, daughter of dictator Islam Karimov. Tickets for $1,000? Nice, in a country with a minimum monthly wage of less than $20, and from a performer who styles himself as a champion of human rights. Then in February this year the UK Guardian came out with the news that the guy pocketed between $1 and $2 million US for the show, claiming he thought it had been sponsored by UNICEF. Right.
Since Gulnora is linked to the holding company Zeromax, which boasts thousands of acres planted under cotton, Sting's dirty money is likely to have been in part wrung out of the exhausted land by the tired little hands of Uzbek school-kids. Though to be 100% fair, Zeromax denies that it uses child labor to harvest its cotton (but this deserves a post of its own).
Everyone has a chance to let Sting know what they think of his moneymaking venture via this petition, asking him to sign over his profits from the show to the cause of Uzbek human rights.
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights: 2009 cotton harvest
Beyond documentation of the youth and vulnerability of those exploited this past year, this footage shows so clearly what miserable work children are forced to do. You can hear in the audio the sounds of the pods and branches scratching their hands and tearing at their clothes.
Reuters and the New York Times are both reporting that the UN SG made a big push on human rights on his regional trip, with special emphasis on the issue in Uzbekistan. The Secretary General was also reportedly very moved by his flight over the Aral Sea, an ecological disaster directly traceable to the cotton monoculture that persists in Uzbekistan to this day. Tension between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over the planned Rogun hydroelectric dam, which Uzbekistan fears would limit water to irrigate its fields in summer, took up some of the SG's attention.
Though we focus on the moral horror of children exploited by their own government, Ban Ki Moon's visit to the region points to other troubling issues exacerbated by cotton, a system perpetuated by the cost savings created by children's toil.