27 August 2008 | Paul Snell
Campaigners have joined forces to call for an end to the use of child labour in the Uzbek cotton harvest.
Human rights and socially responsible shareholder groups have sent appeals to the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, the International Labour Organisation and to US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to stop the practice.
In addition, four US trade associations, representing buyers of Uzbek cotton, have delivered a letter to the Uzbek ambassador in Washington D.C. expressing their concern over recent reports of child exploitation and detailing their commitment to responsible sourcing.
"We commend the four trade associations for using their influence to change these intolerable practices. Combined, these trade associations represent 100 per cent of all purchases of cotton products in the US. The fact they are publicly condemning forced labour and asking for international monitoring sends a clear message that forcing children to pick cotton must end immediately," said Patricia Jurewicz, associate director at the As You Sow foundation, which co-ordinated the action.
The campaign groups have also called on buyers to take a close look at tracing the source of the cotton that enters their supply chain.
Cotton represents 20 per cent of Uzbekistan's exports and around 15 per cent of the country's GDP. The country is the world's third largest exporter of the fibre.
The US trade associations said if they withdrew or limited the purchase of cotton from Uzbekistan it would have "harmful consequences" for the country's government and economy.