Sign a Petition to Stop Uzbek Child Labor on Cotton Fields

Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is a former soviet republic with an economy that is heavily dependent on agriculture.  The most important agricultural crop that is produced in Uzbekistan is cotton or “white gold” as it is sometimes refereed too.  Uzbekistan is currently the world’s second largest exporter of cotton in the world and the fifth largest producer, selling over 800,000 tons of cotton a year.  Cotton is vital to the Uzbek economy because the crop is worth over US$1 billion.  Despite the revenue that the cotton industry produced for Uzbekistan most of this money ends up in the hands of political elites and their allies.  The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) reported that cotton farmers in Uzbekistan receive approximately one third of the actual value for their cotton.

The egregious behavior by the Uzbek government in the cotton industry does not end with underpaying farmers, but continues with how the cotton crop is harvested.  Unlike most major cotton producing countries in the world, Uzbekistan does not use machines to harvest cotton, but instead uses large amounts of forced child labor.  Every year schools are shut down so children, along with their teachers, can work in the cotton fields.  Children as young as seven are required to work long hours in order to fill daily government quotas.  In 2000, UNICEF reported that an estimated 22.6% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 worked primarily in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan.   

While most children are not paid for this work, those that are paid receive around three cents per kilo of cotton picked.  The dangerous working conditions have lead to the injuries and deaths of some of these children.  Often times, children are housed in poorly maintained dormitories that do not provide proper health, sanitation, and nutritional standards for these child workers.   

Those children, parents, or teachers that try to speak out against this practice or refuse to work are likely to suffer physical and mental retaliation from the government.  In particular, parents that refuse to send their children may have their utilities turned off or social services cut.  In addition, children that do not meet their daily quota are told that their grades might suffer or that they might be expelled from school.

Even though child labor is illegal, according to Uzbek law, the Uzbek government, led by President Islom Karimov, does not deny that children work in the fields, but instead makes it appear as if children are doing this because of feelings of duty.  In a report, the EFJ stated that Karimov has continually denied that there is a policy of forced child labor, but instead claims that children volunteer out of a sense of loyalty to their family or community.




re: Sign a Petition to Stop Uzbek Child Labor on Cotton Fields

This reminds me of the early years in our nation when children toiled in our cotton fields. They were black, too. Please let these children go home, go to school, grow up to be valued and respected as our fellow human beings on the planet Earth. Think of your own children.