The funding will support a project in which the Solidarity Center and its co-implementer, the Center for International Private Enterprise, which will strengthen worker voice and build the capacity of local cotton businesses in Uzbekistan to adhere to international labour standards and enact effective labour compliance systems. 

The world’s sixth-largest producer of cotton, Uzbekistan generates more than one million tons annually. Its annual cotton harvest employs about two million workers – the world’s largest seasonal labour mobilisation – from which approximately half of these workers derive their entire annual income. For decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan’s government enforced strong, centralised control of cotton production, forcing farmers and seasonal workers, including children, to meet quotas for planting and picking cotton.

In 2017, a new government initiated broad reforms and pledged to eliminate forced labour. The government’s efforts to promote public awareness of forced labour prohibitions and identify violations and penalise offenders have markedly reduced forced labour and child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. Today, the industry is moving toward a privately managed “cluster” system of regional cotton and textile firms that buy cotton from local farmers or farm it directly.  

In March 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” but said further efforts are needed to improve worker conditions which include allowing the formation of worker unions.

This year, for the first time, cotton from Uzbekistan was removed from the US Department of Labor’s forced and child labour list.

“Uzbekistan’s commitment to labour standards compliance has renewed international interest in sourcing and investing in cotton grown there,” said deputy undersecretary for international affairs Thea Lee. “To take advantage of these economic growth opportunities, employers must provide decent working conditions and respect the voices and rights of workers. At the same time, workers will need tools to advocate for good labour practices and participate in labour standards compliance systems.”