Tashkent, Uzbekistan - Uzbek cotton farmers are celebrating the lifting of a 13-year-old international boycott of their product following a finding that the cautiously reform-minded government is no longer using organized forced labor to harvest the economically vital crop.
The decision will open the door to long-closed markets for one of the world's biggest cotton producers, including major American clothing retailers such as Amazon, Gap, J.Crew, Target and Walmart.
The U.S.-based Cotton Campaign, a coalition of more than 300 businesses and organizations, initiated the boycott in 2009. At that time, it said, the Uzbek authorities were 'forcing over 1 million children and adults, including medical staff, public sector employees and students, to pick cotton every year during the harvest."
The boycott ended after the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, a Cotton Campaign partner, reported this spring that it found "no systemic or systematic, government-imposed forced labor during the cotton harvest" in 2021.
Despite the Uzbek Forum's finding of discrete incidents of forced labor in several regions, the Cotton Campaign said, "This historic achievement comes after years of persistent engagement by Uzbek activists, international advocates and multinational brands, together with a commitment by the government of Uzbekistan to end its use of forced labor."