There was a time when harvesting cotton in the fields was unthinkable without the involvement of all segments of the population. This tradition, which we inherited from the Soviet times, established the absolute priority of timely collection of “white gold” over the interests of people. In the pursuit of increasing the quantitative indicator to the detriment of the quality indicators of cotton fiber depleted not only soil but also human resources, which ultimately led to serious both domestic and foreign economic problems.
This practice of forced labor has been the subject of criticism by the entire world community, which began in part around 2006. The systemic nature of the condemnation reached its peak in 2010, when due to the use of child labor a boycott was declared to Uzbek cotton and textile products by “world brands”. Developed European countries, many of which began to give preference to cotton from other countries, reacted immediately to this sanction. We can say that with the traditional cotton orientation of the textile industry, the country found itself in a certain “trade isolation”, and its export potential and access to world markets seemed to have slowed down. This had a negative impact on the image of the textile industry, which has a centuries-old tradition of growing and processing cotton fiber – the national wealth of the country.
In order to restore the country’s former glory of a powerful producer and exporter of cotton and cotton products, as well as lost markets and consumers, it was necessary first of all to “root out” the evil, the source of negativity, namely, to eradicate the universal “forced labor” especially in relation to children. The 2016, which gave the start to reforms of the country’s economy, in particular, in the field of agrobusiness, also was a turning point for social and economic sphere. The interests of the people were raised to the top of the pyramid of new labor relations in the legislative framework of the country with the proclamation of the principle of free labor, in which there is no place to violations of human rights and those of the children, and any manifestations of violence, enthrallment in it, coercion are classified as illegal acts and hold employers liable. The concepts provided in the legislation did not remain on paper and were supported by decisive actions of the country’s leadership on the ground, which gave long-awaited results. Thus, the EU countries were once again interested in cotton-fiber products — our Uzbek textiles, because for the first time during the cotton-picking season the universal norms of labor and labor relations were being enforced in the fields. Therefore, the “Textile Protocol” signed between Uzbekistan and the EU back in 2011 was finally unfrozen and, coming into force on July 1, 2017, opened the floodgates for affordable domestic textile to European markets. In addition, quantitative restrictions on the trade in this type of product have been lifted.
Today, Uzbekistan is actively carrying out reforms and transformations in the field of human rights, and significant progress has been made in the complete elimination of child and systematic forced labor. Large-scale structural transformations in agriculture, measures on mechanization of all cotton harvesting process are noted. The processes of privatization and implementation of the market model of cluster development in the cotton-textile industry, excluding the possibility and use of forced labor in any form in the country, are separately identified (information and presentations are attached).
The International Labor Organization has clearly outlined the main conclusion about “the complete elimination of the presence of systematic or systemic child and forced labor” on the basis of monitoring the cotton harvest in 2016 — 2018, which was officially announced by the representatives of the World Bank.
In this difficult cotton history of Uzbekistan, the U.S. Department of Labor has made a bold point in its decision of March 25, 2019, repealing Executive Order #13126, which banned the U.S. public procurement of goods made using forced and child labor. This event was a huge victory for our country not only in the competition for the markets for domestic cotton-fiber and products produced from it, but also, above all, a matter of honor and return of the country’s image in the eyes of the world community. And this is eloquently evidenced by feedback of experts. One of the first to welcome this event was the Executive Director of Indorama Industries (Singapore) Mr. Prakash Kezhrival, who was directly involved in the positive resolution of this issue. The expert noted that the achieved result was made possible due to the efforts made in recent years by the Republic of Uzbekistan to solve the problems of eradicating forced and child labor, correctness and effectiveness of measures in this direction. “This event will allow Uzbek cotton and textile products to enter the U.S. market. Moreover, global clothing brands will be able to confidently use cotton products produced in Uzbekistan in their existing supplies not only in domestic supplies, but also in marketing abroad, as well as to sell their products in the market of Uzbekistan. We hope that customers around the world will be able to use more products produced under the label “Made in Uzbekistan” in their daily lives, thus expressing appreciation for the measures taken by the Government of Uzbekistan and support for the people of this country, in achieving that goal. Indorama Industries is proud to be part of this challenging journey by working closely with various stakeholders.”
The abolition of forced and child labor in Uzbekistan, according to Uzbek experts, will increase the investment attractiveness of the textile industry in Uzbekistan, enhance the process of attracting direct investment in the implementation of textile projects, expand the range of potential buyers of Uzbek textiles, including attract major international retailers from Turkey, the Republic of Korea, the EU and the United States. At the same time, it will provide the largest American associations of manufacturers, leading foreign brands such as Nike, Gap, Levi’s, Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, the opportunity to enter into business relations with manufacturers and suppliers of textiles from Uzbekistan. All this will help to improve the export orientation and image of the textile industry in Uzbekistan.