By  on October 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — Three dozen protestors from labor unions, universities and churches marched in front of the Embassy of Uzbekistan on Wednesday to protest the country’s alleged use of child labor in the cotton industry.

The government of Uzbekistan has come under scrutiny for labor practices in its cotton industry, most recently in a U.S. Labor Department report last month that cited countries for alleged child labor and forced labor practices that violated international standards.

The Uzbekistan embassy did not return calls seeking comment.

The demonstration was part of an effort to draw attention to the issue by a coalition of unions and human rights groups, including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, Child Labor Coalition and International Labor Rights Forum. Protest organizers said students as young as 10 — and their teachers — are pulled out of school and conscripted by the Uzbekistan government to pick cotton.

The rally was staged to coincide with the cotton harvest season in Uzbekistan and with a cotton fair in Tashkent, where the majority of cotton contracts will be signed, said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

“We are taking this action today to send a message to all those buyers,” Athreya said.

The coalition delivered more than 1,000 postcards to the embassy, urging the government to stop the use of forced labor of adults and children in the cotton industry, implement its obligations under the International Labor Organization conventions and give journalists and human rights activists access to investigate harvest practices.

Several major apparel brands and retailers have committed to working with labor and human rights groups to remove Uzbek cotton from their supply chains in recent years. Athreya said her organization has had productive conversations with Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Limited Brands Inc. and Nike Inc. about banning Uzbek cotton from their supply chains.

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