The touch and feel of cotton, especially in Uzbekistan, has gotten rougher. According to reports from Anti-Slavery International (Free the Slaves’ partner organization in the U.K.), hundreds of thousands of students from the age of nine are being forced by government mandate to drop out of school and pick cotton for the world’s third largest exporter.
The pressure heats up around Uzbekistan’s international Cotton and Textile Fair in Tashkent, a time when over 330 companies from 38countries flock to Uzbekistan to examine over 800 different varieties of cotton fibers.
Despite boycotting and international condemnation, the event’s website states that the “primary goal of such an endeavor is to further expand long-term cooperation with international organizations and foreign companies.”
Presently, Uzbekistan continues to force its children to pick cotton, and the European Union continues to offer Uzbekistan reduced trading tariffs.
According to the Uzbekistan news website RFERL.org, the children are only allowed to sleep four hours a night, cursed at, and forced to pick 220 pounds of cotton a day, more than three times their average possible body weight.
“We don’t have normal drinking water.” One student said. “They wake us up whenever they want and force us to go out onto the field.”
What happens if a student fails to pick the government mandated quota? Javlon Toghaev was one of many students expelled from his University last year for not being able to pick his share.
Though the news is grim, there is something you can do. Sign the petition at Anti-Slavery.org to stop the European Union from offering reduced trading tariffs to a known exporter of slave goods.
In addition, more than 60 apparel companies worldwide, representing over 800 brands, have signed a pledge to not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan until the International Labor Organization guarantees its elimination. Companies on the signatory list include Target, Walt Disney, Wal-Mart, H&M, and ANNE inc.
How else can you help?
Watch the video above, tell your friends, post it on your Facebook, educate your classrooms, or start a campaign. Go to the Free the Slaves website to learn more details about starting your own benefit.