ILO, IFC and Uzbekistan government, employers, and workers’ organisations signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 30 May setting out the conditions for a new programme that will operate for 24 months initially.

Better Work aims to promote labour standards and competitiveness in textile and garment factories through compliance assessments, training and advisory services.

IFC explains this agreement represents a major milestone for Uzbekistan on its journey to opening up cotton, textile, and garment production to new export markets.

In fact, it adds, Uzbekistan is among the top 10 global cotton producers, and the sector has been undergoing significant reforms in recent years.

Better Work will act as an industry convener and help ensure labour standards are upheld in Uzbekistan’s textile and garment factories.

The MoU is also said to build on long-term efforts by the Uzbekistan government, World Bank Group, ILO and other stakeholders to improve labour and environmental standards in cotton fields.

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“The programme will support the sustainable growth of textile and garment manufacturing, which has the potential to create thousands of new, decent jobs for mostly women garment workers in rural areas across the country,” explained Conor Boyle, officer-in-charge of Better Work.

IFC has supported the cotton and textile industry in Uzbekistan since 2016 with advisory support and investments. The ILO has had a presence in the textile sector in Uzbekistan since 2013. This has included monitoring the cotton harvest, and in 2022 it reported the eradication of systemic child and forced labour in the Uzbekistan cotton production cycle.

Lukas Casey, IFC manager for manufacturing, agribusiness and services in the Middle East, Central Asia and Türkiye, said: “We hope Better Work’s presence will send a strong signal to global apparel brands and retailers, some of whom are already considering sourcing from Uzbekistan, about the strength and sustainability of the Uzbekistan textile and garment industry.”

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has provided initial funding for the Better Work Uzbekistan programme.

Earlier this week a new sustainability roadmap presented by non-profit Better Cotton received attention from those attending Uzbekistan’s Tashkent Textile Week, including business, government, civil society, international organisations, and educational institutes.

This roadmap builds upon the foundation of the Better Cotton Programme in Uzbekistan, which was launched in 2022.

In March last year global textile and apparel trade bodies and campaign groups, hailed Uzbekistan’s reform of its cotton harvest system to eliminate forced labour as a “historic achievement” with fashion sourcing executives being encouraged to explore sourcing cotton from the region.