Protest at Daewoo in Seoul Against Forced Labor Profiteering
200,000 Demand: Stop Uzbek Cotton Purchases
Protestors outside the headquarters of Daewoo International Corporation in Seoul, South Korea today delivered a petition signed by nearly 230,000 people from more than 190 countries demanding the multinational corporation stop profiting from forced labor of children and adults in Uzbekistan. Daewoo is the largest processor of cotton in Uzbekistan, where the Uzbek government requires more than a million children and adults to grow and harvest cotton each year in one of the world’s largest systems of state-orchestrated forced labor.
This action is part of a two-year campaign demanding Daewoo cease purchases of cotton in Uzbekistan until the Uzbek Government stops its use of forced labor in the cotton harvest. In response to the campaign, leading retailers, including Nike, H&M, Ikea, C&A, Jones Group and Michael Kors pushed Daewoo International out of their supply chains. More than 130 companies have publicly committed to boycott Uzbek cotton until the abuses end.
The protestors are participants in the Cotton Campaign, a global coalition of human rights, labor, investor and business organizations dedicated to ending forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan. In addition to APIL, today’s protest was led by: Walk Free, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Korean House for International Solidarity, GongGam (Human Rights Law Foundation), Corporations for All, Corporate Social Responsibility & Law Center, Labor Committee of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights, and ODA Watch.
“We are here today to demand that Daewoo live up to its corporate responsibilities to respect human rights and ensure that it is not benefitting from forced labor,” said Jong Chul Kim, director of the Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), which helped coordinate the action. “Even after Daewoo acknowledged the problem of forced labor in the Uzbek cotton harvest, they have refused to stop buying cotton from Uzbekistan and have even increased their investments in the Uzbek textile industry.”
“State-sponsored forced labor will continue in Uzbekistan as long as companies like Daewoo continue to support it,” said Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights. “Daewoo and the Uzbek government reap huge profits off this trade at the expense of Uzbek children and adults, who are forced to grow and harvest cotton each year at considerable risk and for no personal gain.”
"There is strong public support in favour of tackling the despicable practice of forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton fields,” said Jayde Bradley, Senior Campaigner at Walk Free. "More and more companies are distancing themselves from state-sponsored slavery in Uzbekistan. Daewoo must now publicly pledge its opposition to this exploitation of the Uzbek people and cease its operations there until the International Labour Organisation can verify that the use of forced labour has come to an end."
"Forced labor is a crime under international law, and Daewoo is knowingly participating in, and perpetuating, this crime in Uzbekistan," said Abby Mills, campaigns director at the International Labor Rights Forum. "For this reason, the U.S. Government has opened an investigation of Daewoo for potential violations of U.S. laws concerning forced labor. To avoid any connection with this crime, apparel companies should ensure they are not doing business with Daewoo, or any other company using cotton from Uzbekistan, at any point in their supply chains."
Uzbekistan, the world’s fifth largest cotton exporter, takes in at least $1 billion in cotton profits annually, but all of it goes into an extra-budgetary fund to which only the highest government officials have access. Eleven people died in the 2013 harvest, including Amirbek Rakhmatov, a six-year-old boy who suffocated under a pile of cotton during a nap while accompanying his mother to the fields.
Daewoo buys 5% of all of Uzbekistan’s cotton, was the first multinational company to invest in Uzbekistan in the 1990s, and has expanded from one to three factories, including Global KOMSCO Daewoo, which produces cotton pulp used to manufacture South Korea’s currency. In return, the Uzbek government provides Daewoo discounted cotton prices, tax incentives and preferential loans.
The Cotton Campaign has engaged Daewoo directly since 2012. The company has steadfastly refused to cease purchasing forced-labor cotton and to conduct independent human rights monitoring of its supply chain in Uzbekistan. As a company owned by a member of the United Nations Global Compact, POSCO, and headquartered in a member state of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea, Daewoo is responsible for avoiding contributing to human rights violations in its operations and supply chain. Following the petition delivery, the Cotton Campaign will submit a request to the OECD National Contact Point of South Korea seeking its support for the demand that Daewoo cease profiting from forced labor in Uzbekistan.
CONTACT: Cotton Campaign Coordinator - C/O International Labor Rights Forum, 1634 I Street NW, suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. +1(202) 347-4100, cottoncampaigncoordinator [at] gmail.com