APDN has identified lead genetic markers that are unique to certain cotton cultivars grown in Uzbekistan, where there are  ongoing concerns over the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest

APDN has identified lead genetic markers that are unique to certain cotton cultivars grown in Uzbekistan, where there are  ongoing concerns over the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest

Product authentication business Applied DNA Sciences (APDN) has proposed a collaborative framework designed to put a stop to forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton fields.

The company has identified lead genetic markers that are unique to certain cotton cultivars grown in Uzbekistan, where there are ongoing concerns over the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest.

According to APDN, the biomarkers have been tested in raw and ginned cotton, while the testing of yarn and finished textiles is forthcoming.

In the meantime, the company is looking for partners to join its mission to eradicate forced labour in Uzbek cotton fields, by using its SigNature T DNA technology.

The solution, usually used for supply chain security, offers a means for transparency, traceability and trust for consumers, brands and retailers by forensically proving the origin of their cotton. To date, multiple brands and retailers have SigNature T-tagged over 150m pounds of US-grown cotton.

Last year, APDN rolled out SigNature T to cotton gins in Arkansas, California and Texas, to help improve cotton supply chain transparency. 

DNA tagging to help cotton supply chain transparency

The new proposal is the first mechanism to discriminate fibres of Uzbek origin, says APDN.

"Even if a retailer's brand were surreptitiously adulterated with Uzbek cotton, the damage to their equity would be irreparable," explains Dr James Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA. "When combined with a programme of molecular tagging at the source, our products and services can de-risk supply chains for every cotton retailer, brand and manufacturer."

According to the Cotton Campaign, a global coalition of labour, human rights, investor and business organisations, the government of Uzbekistan operates the largest forced-labour system of cotton production in the world, forcing more than 1m Uzbek citizens every year to work long hours picking cotton for state-run industries under threat of penalties, including loss of their jobs or education.

"DNA technology can help businesses and regulators enhance traceability and transparency in global supply chains," says Kirill Boychenko, coordinator of the Cotton Campaign at the International Labor Rights Forum. "Applied DNA's advances in molecular tagging and cotton genotyping can provide technical guidance on cotton produced with forced labor from countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that can then be used by brands, retailers, supply chain intermediaries and law enforcement to ensure responsible sourcing."

In addition, APDN also proposes machine harvesting and modern ginning be introduced to the Uzbek cotton industry as soon as possible, perhaps funded by governments, NGOs and the global cotton industry. Molecular markers supplied by the company could ensure that every relevant fibre is recognisable as free of forced labour, it says, adding Uzbek cotton fibres could be introduced to the global market in the future as a superior upland cotton, untainted by "ethical compromise".

Uzbekistan is one of the largest exporters of cotton; sixth in the global economy.

Last week, a cohort of human rights groups, including the Cotton Campaign, questioned a report by the The International Labor Organization (ILO) that claims the Government of Uzbekistan is making progress in reforms to address risks of child and forced labour in its cotton industry. 

Human rights groups question Uzbekistan forced labour progress