UZBEKISTAN: Cotton ban gains momentum with apparel firms
More than 120 international apparel brands and retailers have now pledged to ban the use of cotton from Uzbekistan as part of efforts to stop the country using forced and child labor to harvest its cotton crop.
Zara, JC Penney, American Eagle, and Fruit of the Loom are the most recent companies to join the growing list of signatories, which include Gucci, H&M, Walmart, and the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), which represents more than 75% of the US apparel and footwear industry.
The US-based Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) has coordinated the so-called 'Cotton Pledge', which builds on efforts that began in 2004 in response to a call to action by Uzbek human rights groups.
The companies say they intend to maintain the ban on Uzbek cotton until the International Labor Organization (ILO) independently verifies the end of forced labour.
The evidence, however, suggests their efforts still have some way to go. The RSN says observers at the 2012 cotton harvest in October and November claim the Uzbek government this year intensified the use of adult forced labor and continued forced child labour.
Despite a statement by the Uzbek government that child labor would be prosecuted, the scale of forced labor of young school children (ages 7-14) was merely reduced - with the burden of the harvest shifting instead to older children (15-19) and adults.
Part of the problem is that difficulties in identifying the country of origin of cotton in a huge trade flow make it hard to enforce the ban. Which is why some activists also want the boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles extended to include the companies that use them, as well as foreign investors and partners in Uzbek textile companies.
The RSN expects companies taking part in its pledge to create an internal policy against purchasing cotton picked with forced child labour from Uzbekistan and then notifying all of their suppliers.
The next step is to use contractual obligations to ensure their suppliers and sub-suppliers do not purchase Uzbek cotton.
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