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Applied DNA Proposes Cotton Tagging as a Means to Ending Forced Labor

Applied DNA Sciences has a solution for ending forced labor in the Uzbekistan cotton sector.

The bio-tech solutions provider has identified lead genetic makers that are tied to Uzbekistan cotton cultivars. The biomarkers have been tested in raw and ginned cotton, with subsequent yarn and finished textile testing forthcoming.

Using Applied DNA’s SigNature T molecular tag, which authenticates the forensic origin of cotton, it would be possible to differentiate Uzbek cotton harvested by machinery from that which derives from forced labor.

To make this possible, Applied DNA is urging industry members, NGOs and government bodies to work together to introduce modern ginning and machine harvesting in Uzbekistan. Funding could be provided by industry members, organizations and federal authorities to provide the nation’s cotton farms with advanced equipment, meanwhile brands could supply molecular markers to identify the ethically harvested cotton, thereby removing the cotton produced from forced labor from the market.

For brands, retailers and manufacturers, this system would have the added benefit of insulating them against the PR damage their companies could face if the public knew there was Uzbek cotton in their products, according to James Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA.

SigNature T is applied where locally grown cotton is ginned and then forensically authenticated from fibers to finished goods. To date, many brands have used SigNature T for over 150 million pounds of U.S.-grown cotton.

“DNA technology can help businesses and regulators enhance traceability and transparency in global supply chains,” International Labor Rights Forum Cotton Campaign coordinator Kirill Boychenko said. “Applied DNA’s advances in molecular tagging and cotton genotyping can provide technical guidance on cotton produced with forced labor from countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that can then be used by brands, retailers, supply chain intermediaries and law enforcement to ensure responsible sourcing.”

According to Cotton Campaign data, the Uzbek government every year forces over one million Uzbek citizens to work long hours picking cotton for state-run industries, and if they refuse to do so, they face losing their jobs or education opportunities. As a result of these practices, the U.K. and U.S. are among the many countries that have passed policies to prevent the trafficking of unethical Uzbek cotton within their borders.