Uzbekistan has banned the use of child labour in its cotton fields after coming under pressure to end the practice from apparel importers and retailers in the US and EU, according to local media reports.

The country's government signed two International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions against child labour on 12 September - and says it will not allow children under the age of 16 to work during this autumn's cotton harvest.

Uzbekistan, the world's third-largest cotton exporter, produces more than 3.5m tons of cotton annually.

But allegations that children as young as 10-15 years old are forced to harvest cotton have led major western retailers such Levi's, Tesco and Wal-Mart to take measures to exclude Uzbek cotton from their merchandise.

A group of four US trade associations last month urged Uzbek president Islam Abduganievich Karimov to put an end to the use of forced child labour in the country's cotton fields, saying their members only work with "business partners that follow workplace standards consistent with international labour standards."