With the International Uzbek Cotton and Textile Fair set to take place Oct. 14-15 in Tashkent, many major retailers and apparel brands are taking action to block Uzbekistan cotton from filtering through their supply chains. Tesco is the latest company to join Target, Walmart, C&A, Marks and Spencer, Ikea and H&M as signatories in the Responsible Sourcing Network’s (RSN) Cotton Pledge, committing to not use Uzbek cotton harvested with forced labor in their products.
In order to meet high demands, the Uzbekistan government requires farmers to grow cotton and the local government to force adults out of work and children away from school and into cotton fields to meet quotas. RSN reported that after five years of coordinated advocacy, the youngest children, ages 7-15, are almost completely absent from the fields, however, a large number of older students and adults are still working as forced laborers.
Giles Bolton, responsible sourcing director for Tesco, said, “Tesco was one of the first retailers to ban the use of Uzbek cotton in the supply chain in 2007, and we are now very proud to be a signatory to the Cotton Pledge.” He added, “Eliminating cotton picked with forced labor is a critical step in the responsible sourcing process, and this, as well as eradicating other human rights abuses buried deep in global supply chains requires concerted and coordinated efforts.”
Director of RSN Patricia Jurewicz said, “I applaud Tesco and the other retailers and brands for maintaining their commitments to avoid cotton from Uzbekistan. Having the largest retailers in the world standing united shows that they are committed to doing their part to end forced labor, both of children and adults.”
Earlier this month, human rights coalitions ramped up their protests, delivering a petition condemning Uzbekistan’s reliance on forced labor to Uzbek Ministry of Education in Tashkent, as well as to Uzbek embassies and consulates in Berlin, London, Paris and Washington, D.C. Advocacy group Anti-Slavery International staged a small protest outside the Uzbek embassy in London.