A select few retailers are getting closer to getting Uzbek cotton out of their supply chains. These include J. Crew, and Hanes, the t-shirt maker; some others don't want to be named until they are further along in the process. But some corporations are just plain recalcitrant, including those named above.
When I go to buy school and play clothes for my 5 and 6 year olds, the last thing I want to think about are their Uzbek coevals shivering out in the fields getting dysentery from canal water. So in addition to returning the clothes I've bought from Gymboree lately, I'll be sending this email to Matthew McCauley, Gymboree's CEO, as well as his callous colleagues. Please join me.
Of all the companies named by the International Labor Rights Forum on this year's Sweatshop Hall of Shame for the use of Uzbek cotton, LL Bean was the fastest to respond, and vowed to (eventually) exclude it from their supply chain. Let's hope their follow through is as exhaustive as their initial response was rapid.
Read more on the ILRF blog here. If you buy LL Bean products, take time to let their corporate office know that this is important to you.
It wasn't too much of a surprise to read that the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre bonds were placed on credit watch negative recently, after being downgraded to junk status in June. Is a business model built on willful, knowing exploitation of forced child labor really sustainable in any sense?
Maybe five years ago, traders could claim ignorance about Uzbekistan's mass child enslavement for the cotton harvest. Not anymore. Multiple actors have approached the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre with the evidence directly, at least from 2008. In July of this year the American Apparel and Footwear Association, in league with the (U.S.) National Retail Federation and two other major trade groups, wrote to the DMCC director, David Rutledge, and requested action. The DMCC, after all, is a critical actor enabling the Uzbek government to profit from it exploitive practices. And what action was taken? A big roll-out of new services at the Tashkent Cotton Fair, and more cotton purchases: the DMCC traded 20,000 tons by October and (Dr. Rutledge has since been replaced by the former head of the Dubai Gold Exchange, Malcolm Wall Morris.)
As the cotton works its way up the production chain, consumers are sending the message to retailers (and many retailers are reacting...and those that are not are being called on it). But the first-line facilitators of this outrage such as the DMCC have an obligation to act, too.
The International Labor Rights Forum released its list of Sweatshop Hall of Shame inductees for 2009. They include some of the best-known American retailers of children's clothing...who refuse to stop profiting from the exploitation of children in Uzbekistan. ILRF writes:
While over 25 companies have committed to boycotting the use of Uzbek cotton until the government ends its abusive labor practices, there are still many companies that haven’t stepped up to the plate. Gymboree, Hanes, and LL Bean have been contacted and yet they refuse to concretely address this pervasive problem.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Uzbek college students are regularly being expelled for refusing to pick cotton.
With that kind of a black mark in their past, any expelled student has little chance of ever completing higher education at home, which leaves the most likely option for survival in a country with mass un- and underemployment that of migrating for seasonal manual labor to Russia. But in the downturn, thousands of those migrants have been forced to return home...or forced into criminal activity.