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Tescos to ban Uzbek cotton over child labour abuse 15.01.08

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) applaud Tesco’s breakthrough decision following ongoing discussions with the campaigning group to place a ban on all cotton sourced from Uzbekistan for its clothing range, homeware and corporate purchases.

The decision comes following a 3-year investigation on cotton production in Uzbekistan conducted by the EJF that led to the recent BBC Newsnight exposé on forced child labour in Uzbekistan, as reported by Simon Ostrovsky of London based TV production company Insight News TV.

Alongside a ban on raw cotton from Uzbekistan, Tesco, the world’s third largest retailer, has also announced its intention to implement a system to monitor its supply chain, thereby introducing far greater transparency and traceability in the clothing and textiles process.

“We have spent three years campaigning to have Uzbek cotton removed from the market while it continues to be produced with forced child labour, to the detriment of the environment and only to the benefit of the ruling elite” Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF says. “This ground-breaking move by Tesco – unprecedented from a major UK retailer – has the potential to change a multi-billion dollar industry. Transparency within the supply chain is essential in stopping abuses such as those seen in Uzbekistan”.

Pressure has been mounting on Uzbekistan, the world‟s third largest cotton exporter, following EJF’s award winning report „White Gold: the true cost of cotton’ and the subsequent BBC Newsnight investigation that exposed the continued use of state-sponsored child labour in Uzbek cotton fields.

Insight News Managing Editor Ron McCullagh says “A growing number of consumers care very much about what they are buying. Tesco’s stand on this issue shows that investigative journalism has an important role to play in providing suppliers and consumers with the information they need to make ethical purchasing decisions and together with BBC Newsnight and other news programmes here and around world, our award winning team of journalists intend to do carry on doing just that.”

Cotton production in the Central-Asian Republic represents one of the most exploitative enterprises in the world. EJF report that up to one-third of the workforce is required to labour in the annual cotton harvest for very low wages. This includes tens of thousands of children who are withdrawn from school to pick the cotton that funds President Karimov‟s government, which receives around £500 million annually in export revenues from the crop. Europe is a major buyer of Uzbek cotton.

After several meetings with EJF, Terry Green, CEO Tesco Clothing and Hardlines, has told suppliers in a letter that “the use of organised and forced child labour is completely unacceptable and leads us to conclude that whilst these practices persist in Uzbekistan we cannot support the use of cotton from Uzbekistan in our textiles”.

“The Uzbek regime‟s abusive cotton industry operates within a framework of totalitarian control – a system that discounts fair elections; prohibits free media; and condones torture,” Steve Trent says. “We are urging all retailers to follow Tesco’s move to send a message to the government of Uzbekistan that its flagrant human-rights abuses cannot continue. Tesco has proven that the sourcing of cotton fibre and the tracking of supply chains are entirely possible and there is no excuse for all other retailers of cotton goods not to pledge a commitment to do the same.”

Peter Shield

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