Uzbekistan is well on its way to eradicating forced and child labor from its cotton supply chain, and with it the stigma that has plagued the sector and has caused many U.S. and European brands to not buy the raw material.
Representatives of the country’s textile industry joined Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bakhtiyor Ibragimov, at a Textile Talks presentation at the Texworld USA trade show on Monday to declare that Uzbekistan has “phased out,” child and forced labor in its cotton growing and cultivating and manufacturing.
Acknowledging that the industry had been held back by prolonging the use of child labor particularly in growing raw cotton, Ibragimov said the government and industry have made great strides.
He said the inclusion of Uzbekistan in the U.S. State Department’s list of the worst cases of child and forced labor over the years, and last year’s update that “no advancement” had been made has hurt the textile sector, particularly in selling beyond its core customer base of Central Asian countries.
Ibragimov called this action “outdated,” and said, “Every representative of the government is committed to eradicating child labor from the supply chain. In 2018, we will have 85 percent of the cotton picking done by machine.”
He showed a document from the International Labor Organization that said it “recognized and confirmed the absence of child labor in the collection of cotton and the production of textile products” in Uzbekistan. The ILO said “The protection of children and human rights is a priority and direction of state policy in Uzbekistan and the ILO conventions ratified…are fully implemented in national legislative acts.
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Ibragimov noted that the government has instituted incentives for investment and exporting for the textile industry, including exemption from income and property taxes, and easing of costs for Customs payments and fees.
The government is investing in the industry, including $65.5 million to create a textile complex in the Bukhara region and $22 million to support construction of a yarn plant in Denovsky.
Ibragimov said the industry has grown to $1.2 billion in 2017 and is forecast to be $1.5 billion this year.
“One of the reasons we are participating in this and other shows is to demonstrate to U.S. customers and consumers that the Uzbekistan in industry and government has changed and we have a good product to offer,” Ibragimov added.
Uzbekistan had a handful of textile companies exhibiting at the show as a focus country, supported by the Authority for Foreign Investment of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Uztrade Import Export organization, representing more than 460 companies.
He also noted that last year the Textile Protocol between Uzbekistan and the European Union entered into force, resulting in Uzbekistan being granted most favored nation status and removal of quantitative restrictions with respect to trade in textiles.