Child slavery is an ongoing problem in Uzbekistan's cotton industry. Around 90 per cent of Uzbek cotton is harvested by hand with approximately half of all cotton picked by state-sponsored forced child labour. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of children are involved each year.
Uzbekistan is the sixth largest producer of cotton in the world and the third biggest exporter, generating over US$1 billion annually through the export of around 850,000 tonnes of cotton every year. Cotton is currently enjoying a 200 year-high price and Uzbekistan's President Karimov recently announced that the profit from this year's cotton harvest is expected to increase by 35 per cent. Despite these profits, those ordered to pick the cotton remain impoverished.
The single biggest destination for Uzbek cotton is the European market. Despite strong condemnation from the European Union over the use of child slavery in Uzbek cotton production, the EU continues to allow the Government of Uzbekistan to benefit from reduced trading tariffs for its cotton imports to the EU despite its own rules that these benefits should be withdrawn.
Sign the Cotton Crimes petition here calling on upon the President of the European Parliament to stop child slavery.
Schools are closed down for the duration of the cotton harvest and children, some as young as nine years old, are forced to pick cotton by hand for little, if any, pay. Students who fail to meet their targets or refuse to work are beaten or can face expulsion from school. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of children are involved each year.
Despite assurances from the Uzbekistan government that forced child labour was outlawed in 2008, further evidence has been obtained of forced child labour continuing to be used during Uzbekistan’s 2010 cotton harvest, organised by Government agencies and public employees.
The single biggest destination for Uzbek cotton is the European market. I would like to know why the European Unioin is continuing to allow Uzbekistan to benefit from preferential import duties for its cotton exports to the EU.
I ask that steps will be taken to remove these benefits and ensure independent monitoring of the cotton harvest. I would also like to know what other action the European Union will take to ensure forced child labour is eradicated from Uzbek cotton production.