GENEVA — A 22-member coalition, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, AFL-CIO and Human Rights Watch, have called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge the Uzbek government to end forced and child labor in the cotton sector.
In a letter addressed to Clinton dated April 24, the umbrella group asked Clinton to urge the Uzbek government, “To immediately take the appropriate steps to abide by its international commitments to end state-sponsored forced labor and child labor, beginning with an invitation to the International Labor Organization to monitor the 2012 cotton harvest.”
The State Department did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the Uzbek government must present a written plan that constitutes significant efforts to eliminate forced labor to avoid a downgrade in the 2012 global trafficking report, which would trigger automatic sanctions. The Uzbek government has failed to meet this condition, the coalition said, persistently denying the existence of forced labor and forced child labor, “including children as young as age 10,” in the cotton sector and cracking down on local activists who attempt to monitor the cotton harvest.
Human Rights Watch, in its 2012 World Report, notes that Uzbekistan “continues to force 1.5 million to 2 million schoolchildren…to help with the cotton harvest for two months a year.”
“They live in filthy conditions, contract illnesses, miss school and work daily from early morning until evening for little to no pay,” the report said. “Hunger, exhaustion and heat stroke are common.”
Uzbekistan is projected to produce 4.6 million bales, of which 3.25 million bales are slated for export, for marketing year 2011/12, according to a March 29 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.