The Problem with Cotton: Child Labor in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is the world’s third largest exporter of raw cotton, earning the country an estimated $1 billion a year in revenue. Every year at harvest time, schools are shut down and children are forced to pick cotton alongside their teachers and other civil servants for little to no wages. Uzbek men, women and children are forced to work from dawn until dusk picking cotton for less than $1 a day which the government “earns” back by deducting a room and board fee.

For years international human rights watchdog groups have accused the Uzbek government of forcing an estimated 1 million Uzbek children ages 6 to 15 to spend the autumn months picking cotton instead of learning in school. Uzbek activists who speak out about forced child labor are routinely detained and tortured.

Human rights watchdog groups such as the Responsible Sourcing Network and the Anti Slavery.org launched international campaigns against the Uzbek cotton resulting in the Uzbekistan government putting a legal ban on children under the age of 16 working at all. Yet it is widely believed that teenagers aged 15-17 are still forced to leave school and work the cotton harvest.

To help end the rampant forced child labor in Uzbekistan, the Responsible Sourcing Network (a project of As You Sow) introduced a pledge for companies to sign vowing to:

…commit to not knowingly source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child labor in it’s cotton sector…

In just over a year, the Company Pledge Against Forced Child Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton has received 131 signatories from international companies ranging from low end Wal-Mart to luxury brand Gucci.

Human Trafficking Search applauds the efforts of the 131 signatories to stop using Uzbek cotton and encourages more companies to do so. To stay updated or get involved with the campaign against Uzbek cotton please visit Antislavery.org.