MEPs gave their consent to include textiles in the 1999 EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)

MEPs gave their consent to include textiles in the 1999 EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)

The European Parliament has added its support to a textile trade deal with Uzbekistan, in a move set to pave the way for increased textiles imports from the country despite ongoing concerns over the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest.

The draft recommendation, made in Brussels yesterday (14 December), was passed by 564 votes to 100, with 41 abstentions. MEPs gave their consent to include textiles in the 1999 EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which seeks to encourage the Uzbek government to pursue full eradication of all forms of forced labour and to strengthen its cooperation with the EU. 

The deal reverses an earlier decision by the European Parliament in 2011 to postpone the pact over allegations of child and forced labour in the Uzbek cotton industry. 

Maria Arena MEP, rapporteur for the International Trade Committee, said: "This consent is the result of the progress and commitments made by Uzbekistan in the fight against forced and child labour. But as adult forced labour remains a strong concern, we will follow the situation closely and if there are serious human rights violations or any regress on these issues, MEPs will not hesitate to ask the Council and the Commission to suspend the entire partnership agreement."

In a separate non-legislative resolution voted on yesterday, MEPs welcome the fact Uzbekistan has started to work with the International Labour Organization (ILO), pointing out that it has almost fully eradicated child labour in the past three years. They did, however, urge authorities to step up a national awareness-raising campaign to wipe out the practice entirely.

MEPs noted that NGOs are still reporting massive forced mobilisation of students and public employees during the cotton harvest, as well as the interrogation of citizens who speak out about the harvest and the persecution of human rights defenders.

However, US campaign group Human Rights Watch says approval of the protocol could "undermine efforts to end forced labour, led by Uzbek activists, alongside their allies in the trade union and human rights movements, and even the apparel industry." 

It says that compensating for the reduction in child labour, authorities have relied more heavily on adult forced labour, with more than 1m adults being forced to pick cotton this year according to independent monitors in Uzbekistan. 

Earlier this year, the World Bank Group was accused of contributing to the human rights violations by offering agricultural lending to the Uzbek government.

World Bank criticised over Uzbek cotton loans

Hundreds of apparel brands and retailers, including Zara, C&A, Adidas, Wal-Mart Stores, PVH Corp, Fast Retailing and Marks & Spencer have signed a pledge to not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan.