WASHINGTON — The International Labor Rights Forum, a human and labor rights watchdog group, filed a formal complaint on Wednesday with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seeking to have shipments of products containing cotton from Uzbekistan banned from the U.S. because of the country’s use of forced labor.
The ILRF complaint calls on Customs to issue an immediate detention order on all future and pending cotton goods manufactured by Daewoo International Corp., Indorama Corp. and other companies processing cotton in Uzbekistan. Daewoo International, a South Korea-based company owned by the steel manufacturer Posco, and Indorama Cotton, a Singapore-based multinational that produces yarn, fabrics and organic cotton products, are two of the largest processors of Uzbek cotton, according to the ILRF.
“For decades the government of Uzbekistan…has forced millions of children, teachers, nurses, doctors, public-sector workers and private-sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions,” the ILRF said. “Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, denied public benefits or worse. The government combines these penalties with threats, detains and tortures activists seeking to monitor the situation and continues to refuse the International Labor Organization’s efforts to monitor the cotton harvest.”
The watchdog group said Customs has the authority to deny the entry of goods at U.S. ports that contain inputs made with forced labor.
Uzbekistan has exported over 620 tons of cotton yarn and fabric to the U.S. since 2008, the ILRF said, citing U.S. government figures. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission data indicate at least 23 tons of cotton yarn from Uzbekistan entered the U.S. in February 2013 alone.
“U.S. federal law forbids the importation of goods produced using forced labor,” said Brian Campbell, director of policy and legal programs at the ILRF. “We expect U.S. Customs will conduct a thorough investigation into how cotton from Uzbekistan is escaping detection at U.S. ports of entry and effectively ban all future imports into the United States.”