US urged to downgrade Uzbekistan in trafficking report
The report urges the US Government to lower Uzbekistan's ranking to Tier 3
The US apparel and footwear industry has urged its government to downgrade Uzbekistan to the lowest tier in its upcoming trafficking report in response to the country's continued use of forced labour in its cotton harvests.
A report submitted by the Cotton Campaign to support the calls has been endorsed by a group of 36 industry associations, brands, and labour and retail groups, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).
The report says that in 2015, the government of Uzbekistan not only failed to comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act minimum standards of prohibiting, punishing, deterring and taking serious efforts to eliminate trafficking, but continued to implement state policy of forced labour.
As a result, the US Government is urged to lower Uzbekistan's ranking to Tier 3, which would communicate to the Uzbek government that its policy and practice of forced labour is "unacceptable" and encourage the Uzbek government to implement the raft of commitments it has made to apply international conventions prohibiting forced labour.
According to the report, last year the government of Uzbekistan used coercion to mobilise farmers to cultivate cotton, and those who failed to comply were penalised. It also remained complicit in limited instances of forced child labour for cotton production.
In 2015 the Uzbek government imposed annual production quotas on farmers and used coercion to enforce them, the report reveals. Officials threatened farmers with the loss of land, destroyed crops and used verbal and physical abuse at regular meetings known as the "cotton headquarters".
The forced-labour system of cotton production also enabled officials to extort money from citizens, with exemption fees ranging from US$90-$400 and threats of penalties to fulfill work quotas.
The Cotton Campaign also says the Uzbek government last year took extraordinary measures to hide its use of forced labour, demonstrating a lack of commitment to national labour laws, international labour conventions, and its related commitments to the ILO and World Bank.
Indeed, in December, the group urged the World Bank to suspend its loans until the Uzbek government demonstrated progress in reforming the country's cotton production system.
The Bank had provided US$500m in financing to Uzbekistan, on condition the government abides by its own labour laws – including laws that ban the use of forced and child labour – in the areas where the World Bank projects were to operate.
A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), also published in December, found that more than 1m Uzbek citizens were being compelled through various means to grow and pick cotton. The ILO was for the first time allowed by the government to conduct a monitoring of forced and child labour during the 2015 cotton harvest.
This latest report by the Cotton Campaign states that a decade of global pressure, including placing Uzbekistan at Tier 3 in the 2013 and 2014 TIP Reports, encouraged the Uzbek government to dramatically reduce its use of forced child labour. An upgrade to Tier 2 last year resulted in full implementation of its forced-labour system once again.
Click here to view the full report.
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