Gulnara Karimova, the controversial daughter of President Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan, is expected next week in New York at Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
Today the New York Post reports that Human Rights Watch is questioning whether the sponsors of Fashion Week should include Karimova, who is her country's ambassador to Spain and associated with the oppressive regime of her father.
“There’s nothing fashionable about lending a high-profile platform to the senior official of one of the world’s most repressive governments," Steve Swerdlow, HRW's Uzbekistan researcher is quoted as saying.
Karimova will be showing her "Guli" fashion line which includes Middle Eastern and Asian ethnic clothing said to be "green" in its use of native cotton. But that makes it suspect for labor rights campaigners, however, as Uzbekistan is documented as using forced child labor to pick cotton.
Already this season, students of the ages of 14-16 are being mobilized into the cotton fields by government order, and taken away from their studies, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights reports.
WikiLeaks has recently revealed alleged cables that highlight troubling inconsistencies in US and UNICEF policies on the issue of child labor in Uzbekistan and other cables have surfaced indicating how the US has compromised human rights principles for the sake of military concerns.
IMG, the agency which produces Fashion Week, which is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, appears not to have known about Karimova's notorious reputation. An IMG spokesman told the New York Post:
We’re horrified by the human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan, and hope that the attention Human Rights Watch generates is able to effect change in the country. We also hope to work hand-in-hand with Human Rights Watch during Fashion Week and beyond to challenge those in power in Uzbekistan to take action immediately.
Even so, IMG plans to go ahead with Karimova's fashion show. Mercedes-Benz, which has a joint venture in Uzbekistan to sell its buses for public transportation, has not yet commented on the implications of Karimova's involvement in Fashion Week.
The International Labor Rights Forum is planning to picket Karimova on September 15 with a mock fashion show to dramatize the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan's cotton industry.
The campaigners say some retailers visible in New York have pledged not to use Uzbek cotton, including Macy’s, The Gap, Walmart and H&M, but others, such as Forever 21, are still being petitioned to take a position on the issue.
This article first appeared on Choihona at EurasiaNet.