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Anti-slavery accuses H&M of sourcing Uzbek cotton
Dec '12
This year, yet again, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in Uzbekistan were forced to work harvesting cotton. Activists who spoke out were arbitrarily detained and threatened. This modern-day slavery is no secret to clothing retailers, and many have signed a pledge to refuse to buy cotton made in Uzbekistan as a result.

Despite pledging to not to source Uzbek cotton, the global retailer H&M is refusing to take steps that would guarantee no companies in its supply chain profit from slavery in Uzbekistan. Even worse, H&M is reportedly buying products from Daewoo International, a company that explicitly deals in cotton from Uzbekistan.

It’s up to us to show H&M that consumers expect it to live up to its promise to ensure that cotton from Uzbekistan is not present in its products.Whilst forced labour is used to grow and harvest cotton in many countries, Uzbekistan is the only country where it is the government that organises and benefits from this practice.

Schools are often closed during plantings and harvests so children can be forced into the fields. Adults are told that if they do not participate in the harvest they risk losing their jobs. The government reportedly earns around US$1 billion from revenue from the sale of cotton. None of the profits are returned to farmers or local communities. Those forced into the field receive little, if any, pay.

The government of Uzbekistan can only get away with these crimes by finding ways to sell cotton to big clothing companies - so major apparel brands have enormous power to end modern-day slavery. H&M could step forward as a leader, or it could continue to assume everything’s fine, when all indications are that’s far from the truth.

There aren’t many corporations that are willing to do business with Uzbekistan, but the Korean conglomerate Daewoo International runs three large cotton processing facilities in Uzbekistan. Daewoo processes cotton all over the world and sells cotton yarn and clothing to apparel companies, and it’s difficult to know which Daewoo products are tainted with modern-day slavery. The only option therefore is for companies to boycott Daewoo entirely.

H&M pledged not to buy cotton from Uzbekistan and denies that it buys clothes from Daewoo, but Daewoo has reported to the South Korean press that it does in fact sell to the Swedish apparel company. If H&M expects its customers to take its promises seriously, it needs to institute protocols to ensure that neither it, nor its suppliers, is sourcing cotton from Daewoo.


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