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Decade-Long Uzbek Cotton Boycott Ends

Decade-Long Uzbek Cotton Boycott Ends

Following a breakthrough in the eradication of systematic child and forced labor from Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, a coalition of retail trade associations, human-rights organizations, and investment groups announced the end of their worldwide boycott of cotton from the country.

The Cotton Campaign’s action coincides with the publication of a study by the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, which stated that Uzbekistan had improved to the point where it was “nearly totally” capable of harvesting cotton without force.

There was no evidence of state-sanctioned modern slavery during the most recent cotton harvest, which was regarded as a “landmark success” that might help open up Uzbekistan’s textile sector to foreign markets for the first time in the country’s 11-year history of monitoring.

This is due to increased automation, higher salaries for cotton pickers, the elimination of state control of cotton production and sales, and the efficient transmission by the central government of its laws outlawing modern slavery in cotton fields, among other factors.

Following in the footsteps of the International Labor Organization, which started earlier this month that about two million children and half a million adults had been freed from forced labor since government reforms started, the Uzbek Forum’s conclusions are consistent.

Hundreds of companies and retailers have signed the Cotton Campaign’s Uzbek Cotton Pledge Against Forced Labour since the enslavement of teachers and students, doctors and engineers, and other professionals to harvest cotton made headlines in 2009. Among those who have signed the pledge are Adidas, Gap, H&M, and Zara owner Inditex.

In response to the improvements [that], the independent monitors have observed, the Cotton Campaign has announced [that] it is lifting the pledge and ending its call for a global boycott of Uzbek cotton. Patricia Jurewicz, co-founder of the Cotton Campaign, stated that she was relieved of her duties as co-founder. “It will now be left to individual enterprises to do their own risk assessments and to make their own policy and sourcing choices,” says the author.

A number of problems, according to the Uzbek Forum’s study, continue to jeopardize the “long-term viability” of the hard-won accomplishments, including a lack of political independence, which makes it difficult for independent monitoring and reporting of labor-rights abuses to take place.

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