Global clothing brands and retailers were today urged to purge their supply chains of tainted "white gold' - cotton from Uzbekistan picked by forced and child labour.
Speaking in Geneva on the World Day Against Child Labour, Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation hit out at the global cotton industry as one of the most exploitative industries employing millions of children in preparing, planting and picking.
"But," he said, "in a generally rotten industry, Uzbekistan stands out as the as the most notorious producing country. Every year, as many as 2 million schoolchildren, some as young as 10 years old, are conscripted for work in the cotton fields. They are often taken far from their homes and forced to work full days, without regard for the weather, picking raw cotton - which is rough physical work even for adults. They are billeted in appalling accommodation with little sanitary facilities, poorly fed and at constant risk of illness or injury. At least 7 children died during the 2008 season.
"The police are used to enforce discipline and make the kids work harder. If parents object to all of this they face harassment, dismissal from their own workplaces and, on occasions, physical violence.
"Trade unions only urge the boycott of industries as a last resort. It is thus an indication of the horror of the cotton industry in Uzbekistan and the total refusal of the government to remedy the abuses that we now want Uzbek cotton outlawed from global markets.
"We welcome the fact that some key clothing global brands and retailers have decided to ensure that they will not market clothing containing Uzbek cotton. We urge every clothing brand and retailer to join the likes of Gap Inc., Wal-Mart and Tesco and boycott totally all cotton from Uzbekistan till it abandons forced and child labour", concluded Mr. Kearney.
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation is a global union federation bringing together 220 affiliated organisations in 110 countries with a combined membership of 10 million workers.
For more information, contact:
Neil Kearney (General Secretary) at 32/475932487 (mobile) or nkearney[at]itglwf.org
ITGLWF Secretariat at tel: 32/02/512.26.06, fax: 32/02/511.09.04 or office[at]itglwf.org
Visit our website at www.itglwf.org