Forced & Child Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Industry

SAI joins the global movement to eliminate forced and child labor in Uzbekistan's cotton fields

September 2012

Photo from the Uzbek cotton fields [Photo credit: Cottoncampaign.org]

In Uzbekistan, one of the largest exporters of cotton in the world, the government forcibly mobilizes over one million children, teachers, public servants and employees of private businesses for the manual harvesting of cotton each year to meet the government's quota. These individuals perform intense manual labor, under hazardous and unhealthy working conditions. This state-controlled system of forced labor is enforced by threats of expulsion, loss of employment, pensions and child benefits despite the hazardous nature of the work. Additionally, the provincial government offices order schoolteachers to close schools and work in the cotton fields to enforce quotas.  

The Uzbek-government's forced and child labor system violates the human rights of Uzbek citizens and condemns future generations to a cycle of poverty. The practice violates Uzbek labor laws and fundamental international labor and human rights conventions ratified by the Uzbek government that are included in the SA8000® standard for decent work.

SA8000 - Child Labor & Forced Labor

SAI deplores forced or child labor in the supply chain; SAI's purpose is to promote decent work- human rights at work. Specifically, the systemic use of forced and child labor in Uzbekistan is a gross violation of the delineation of these human rights in the SA8000 Standard.

As a standard based on ILO Conventions, SA8000 provisions include: prohibition of forced labor - including restrictions on movement with threat of loss of wages or work: prohibition of contracting practices that deny legally-required benefits to workers; requirements for payment of living wage; and requirements for respect of workers' freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. It prohibits child labor - including restrictions against the use or support of child labor; employer requirements to establish, document, maintain and effectively communicate to personnel; adequate remediation to enable any children found working in violation of SA8000 to remain in school; and that children are not exposed to situations in or outside of the workplace that are hazardous, unsafe or unhealthy.

Global Efforts to Eliminate Forced & Child Labor in Uzbek Cotton

For buyer and supplier companies, SAI calls for increased efforts towards transparency and increased traceability of its raw materials. Already, SAI Corporate Program members including Gap Inc., EILEEN FISHER, Gucci, Disney and Carrefour, have made pledges against buying cotton sourced from forced labor operations/undertakings in Uzbekistan.

SAI also strongly supports the global efforts of diverse organizations to end state-sponsored forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan. The Cotton Campaign calls on companies to ensure that Uzbek cotton does not enter any part of the supply chain until the practice of forced labor is ended, by ceasing business with companies using Uzbek cotton and increasing full supply chain transparency. The Cotton Campaign outlines steps for companies to take, starting with signing the Company Pledge, which is overseen by the Responsible Sourcing Network. Over 75 brands and retailers have signed on to the Cotton Pledge.  See the full list of pledge signatories at @sourcingnetwork.org/the-cotton-pledge.  

For more information, check out the following campaigns:
Cotton Campaign:  www.cottoncampaign.org
Responsible Sourcing Network: www.sourcingnetwork.org
 

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