Top Apparel Companies Boycott Uzbek Cotton due to Use of Forced Labor

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Leading apparel companies across the US and Europe have extended their boycott of Uzbek cotton to include forced labor of any kind. Over the last few years, several top apparel brands have taken a stand against the use of forced child labor in the production of cotton in Uzbekistan. Some of the companies are also working to develop stronger sourcing systems to ensure clear traceability of cotton and other materials used in clothing production.

The pledge to avoid knowingly purchasing Uzbek cotton until the practice of forced labor is discontinued has been signed by 136 international apparel companies so far. The list of companies includes prominent industry leaders such as Disney, H&M, Gap, Walmart, Target, Tesco, Levi’s, Nike, Fruit of the Loom, C&A, Marks and Spencer, Bed Bath & Beyond, Timberland, Nordstrom, and Abercrombie and Fitch.

H&M has made it mandatory for all its direct vendors to sign an agreement to not use Uzbek cotton. It has also asked 300 of its most valuable textile suppliers to stop sourcing Uzbek cotton. The company also plans to perform random inspections to ensure compliance. Walmart had instructed its global supply chain way back in 2008 to stop sourcing Uzbek cotton in an endeavor to persuade the government of Uzbekistan to end the use of forced child labor.

Disney has issued its formal policy statement on its corporate website that says: “As a condition of doing business with Disney, our licensees and vendors agree to observe the standards established by our ILS Program. In 2010, Disney also adopted a Human Rights Policy Statement. Prohibition of all forms of forced labor, including slavery and human trafficking, is a core principle of our Human Rights Policy Statement and is prohibited by our Code of Conduct for Manufacturers.”

According to Sergei V. Naumov, a Central Asian online news reporter, the government in Uzbekistan simply does not invest in mechanization of the cotton production process. This is because the country has cheap labor, and cotton gathered manually is more valuable in the international market. As per the international labor and rights groups, this is effectively a system of forced labor, which has long been a scourge of the cotton industry.

The Uzbek government holds a monopoly over the cotton industry in the country, and pays far below the prevailing international market prices for the cotton. This allows the government to make exploitative profits that help balance its national budget. In return, the government provides free labor to the farmers. In the wake of this reality, the global apparel industry has taken a most critical step by extending its boycott of Uzbek cotton to include forced labor of any kind.

Source: NYT

Image Credit: Flickr via kimberlykv

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