Anti-slavery campaigners are urging two high street fashion retailers to stop selling clothes made with cotton which may have been picked by forced child labour.

Anti-Slavery International and the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) claim both H&M and Zara source garments from Beximco Textimes (Bextex) in Bangladesh, which has admitted it uses cotton from Uzbekistan - where children as young as 10 harvest the raw material.

The campaigners are now calling on retailers to put in place systems to begin to track and trace the origin of the cotton in their products.

Without implementing such measures a commitment to ban the use of Uzbek cotton becomes virtually meaningless, they say.

It is thought that around half of all cotton in Uzbekistan is still picked by forced child labour, despite assurances from the country's government that this practice was outlawed in 2008.

The action groups, however, claim they have images of children picking cotton taken secretly during Uzbekistan's 2009 cotton harvest, which ended at the beginning of December.

Each year, the Uzbekistan government closes schools and forces more than 200,000 school children into the cotton fields during the three-month long harvest.

Many retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Nike have put in place a ban on Uzbek cotton because of the known use of child slavery in the cotton industry.

Anti-Slavery now wants other companies to follow suit, and ban the use of Uzbek cotton until forced labour has been eradicated from the production process.
"The last thing the British public want to do when they go and buy Christmas jumpers or the usual pair of socks for their loved ones is to be supporting child slavery," said Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International's supply chain co-ordinator.

"It is unacceptable that the cotton used to make these products could be picked by forced child labour."