Last week, the third annual meeting of the Consultative Council of the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Sustainable Cotton Supply Chain Project took place with the participation of the Cotton Campaign and several of its member organizations, as well as Uzbek human rights defenders, international organizations, and other stakeholders. The Uzbek government was represented by the leadership of the Ministries of Investment and Foreign Trade, Agriculture, Water Resources, Employment and Labor Relations, the Uzbek Textile Association, and regional leaders. The Cotton Campaign presented findings from its partner Uzbek Forum’s independent monitoring of the 2019 cotton harvest which documented both the significant progress the government had made to reform the cotton sector and overcome forced labor as well as the challenges that remain.
The Cotton Campaign also presented its proposal for a Responsible Sourcing Agreement framework (RSA), an innovative, co-governed agreement to re-open Uzbekistan’s cotton sector to the international market while protecting labor rights. The agreement would facilitate responsible sourcing of cotton and cotton products by global brands and their suppliers while providing capacity building for cotton and textile clusters, farmers, and workers; monitoring; an enforceable grievance mechanism; and supply chain transparency. “The RSA agreement is the direct result of the Cotton Campaign’s constructive dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan over several years and reflects both the immense progress in addressing forced labor so far as well as the need to consolidate the reform process to ensure the protection of workers’ rights according to international standards,” said Bennett Freeman, co-founder of the Cotton Campaign.
In his keynote address, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov highlighted the importance of the RSA as a path forward for Uzbek producers. As noted by the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade, the RSA framework builds on international best practices and would ensure that Uzbek cotton producers meet international standards. Nate Herman, senior Vice President of Policy at the American Apparel & Footwear Association states, “We are encouraged by the historic progress underway in Uzbekistan and the government’s commitment to working with the Cotton Campaign to implement the RSA. Our members are closely watching the development of the RSA and look forward to being able to encourage their suppliers to source from Uzbekistan responsibly.”
The Cotton Campaign welcomes the commitment of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade to seek responsible investment in Uzbekistan‘s cotton sector and to support reforms to end forced labor. Allison Gill, Senior Cotton Campaign Coordinator at GLJ-IRLF adds, “As brands are looking to get out of the Uyghur region, Uzbekistan provides an opportunity— to develop new sourcing and to come in under a co-governed structure where workers, producers, and brands all have a seat at the table.”