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US Lifts Uzbek Cotton Ban on Near Elimination of Child Labor

On the heels of a similar determination from the International Labor Organization (ILO) in November, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Bureau of International Labor Affairs has determined that the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan “has been significantly reduced to isolated incidents.”

As a result, the agency has removed Uzbek-grown cotton from its list of products prohibited from imported into the U.S. for being produced by forced or indentured child labor.

The DOL, in consultation and cooperation with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, proposed removing Uzbekistan-produced cotton from the list in July 31, and after a review of industry and expert comments and information, the departments made the final determination in a Federal Register notice this week.

The Cotton Campaign had indicated its opposition to the removal of cotton from Uzbekistan from the list, writing a letter stating that there were incidents of forced and child labor during the 2017 cotton harvest,  and that some cotton pickers had been coached to tell observers they worked voluntarily.

According to the Cotton Campaign, there was no conclusive evidence that forced or child labor had ceased. It also noted that due to pressure stemming from the government’s quota system, parents sometimes brought their children to cotton fields to pick cotton.

The DOL said the government of Uzbekistan discussed the country’s legal framework prohibiting forced labor and its work with human rights organizations, activists monitoring the 2017 cotton harvest, and the World Bank Third Party Monitoring system implemented by the ILO. The government also cited its efforts to investigate child labor and forced labor complaints and to punish violators. It noted the creation of a Parliamentary Commission on Labor Rights and explained the commission’s responsibility to work with state and local authorities to ensure compliance with international labor standards and national law.

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“The departments have carefully reviewed, analyzed and considered the comments submitted in determining whether to remove cotton from Uzbekistan from the…list,” the Bureau of International Labor Affairs said. “In addition, the departments have continued to monitor the cotton harvest since the issuance of the initial determination and will continue to monitor future cotton harvests…The departments conclude that based on available information, the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan has been significantly reduced to isolated incidents and, as a result, this product no longer meets the criteria for inclusion in the list.”