Certifying a Sustainable Supply Chain to Prevent Child Labour Abuse

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Cotton production in the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan is responsible for grave human rights abuses, including the enforcement of child labour. During the cotton season, this country recruits over a million civilians to work in the fields without compensation. Schools are shut down, and children along with working professionals are faced with torture and arrest if they refuse to pick cotton under fatal working conditions. Uzbekistan is the world’s third largest exporter of cotton, earning around US$1 billion annually from the sale of its cotton to clothing companies that are primarily based in Asia, who in turn export garments to the west.

The cotton Uzbekistan produces remains one of the most exploitative enterprises in the world. The Government here routinely compels hundreds of thousands of children as labourers in its annual cotton harvest. Some analysts suggest between one to two million school-age children are forced to pick cotton. Children ages 11 and up, and some as young as six years old, are dispatched to the cotton fields for two months each year, missing out on their education.

Cotton picking is hard labour, with each child given a daily cotton quota of several dozen kilos that they must fulfil or they may face threats or physical abuse if they fail to pick their quota. Children may be compelled to stay in barrack-like accommodations during the harvest; the living conditions are squalid. The food in these places often lacks basic nutrition and the children can often only access water from irrigation pipes, which carries health risks. Alarmingly, the children can be left in poor health after the harvest; illnesses include hepatitis, injuries and even death. The harvest begins in late summer when temperatures are high. and they have no protective clothing while they work.

The children receive little or no payment for their labour. Cruelly payments are deducted for their travel expenses and any food they are provided with during the cotton picking season, which can often leave them in debt. So, how do you as a clothing brand know that your cotton is ethical, that your supply chain is clean, especially, if you have numerous vendors in the supply chain? It is a monumental task when conducting a comprehensive security risk assessment of your international supply chains. Particularly, when seeking certification from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) a voluntary supply chain security program led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to improve the security of private companies' supply chains.

The certification is a rigorous process. To help with this process, Source Intelligence, an organization that delivers supply chain management and support for regulatory compliance and social responsibility, assists companies in their C-TPAT efforts. It has expertise in supply chain tracing, data verification, due diligence, documentation and reporting that has been proven in challenges including conflict minerals, carbon foot-printing, supply chain efficiency, and hazardous materials management. Crucially, it helps to track cotton from Uzbekistan and to stop the trade, giving these children a chance to escape this inhuman abuse. The international community cannot give up in this endeavour or forget about these children.   

Photo Credit: AsiaNews.it